Annie Sprinkle

at Theater Oobleck

October 15-27

It’s easy to talk about the crazy, sensationalistic things Annie Sprinkle is doing during her 12-day run at Theater Oobleck. In Post Post Porn Modernist, among other things, she douches and pees onstage. She also displays her cervix to anyone and everyone interested. Even the intermission has its slice of the bizarre: for $5, audience members can have a Polaroid taken of them with Sprinkle’s breasts on their heads.

It’s easy to see how some of the very serious issues Sprinkle addresses in the show–love and sex, women’s strengths and vulnerabilities, misogyny, spirituality, AIDS, friendship, hypocrisy, even loneliness–can get lost in the campy fun. But Sprinkle is damn serious. Though superficially the show is designed to entertain, her bite is infinitely more dangerous than her very loud bark.

Whether pushing her ass in the air, cavorting on the bed, or performing fellatio on a dildo, Sprinkle is more than convincing. And why not? As the star of more than 150 porn films, most of them hard-core, she has vast experience–as she aptly illustrates in the most graphic terms. After some nutty mathematics, Sprinkle shows us that, if we were to put all the cocks she’s ever sucked one on top of the other, they would be at least as high as the Empire State Building. How much cum has she swallowed? About five quarts, she concludes.

Absurd? Of course–but true, too. And that’s what is so unnerving about the show. Certainly Sprinkle exploits her own life, particularly those episodes that involved out-of-the-ordinary sex. But cynical self-exploitation isn’t really her game. Sprinkle is curiously vulnerable throughout.

Despite its casualness, the show is amazingly well plotted, well paced, and deliberate. I suspect that even those lines that seemed improvised were actually written and rehearsed for maximum effect. (Skimming through Sprinkle’s book about Post Post Porn Modernist after the show, I noticed that one of the evening’s better “improv” lines–about masturbating while meditating–had been scripted.) And few performance artists make transitions seem as easy as Sprinkle does. For example, when she begins showing slides of the men she’s loved, we barely notice–until she’s on the fourth or fifth one–that she’s begun talking about lovers she’s lost to AIDS. By that time, it’s too late: she has us, we aren’t going to turn away no matter what.

Though the show has its shock value, none of the shocks seem out of place. It is, after all, autobiographical. Sprinkle’s implicit deal with us is that she won’t judge our responses if we don’t judge her choices. This gives her the license to be as radical as she wants. In the show the lines between the personal, the political, the practical, and the entertaining aren’t just blurred, they’re obliterated.

Consider, for example, the bit with the cervix. Sprinkle lies back on a chair, spreads her legs, and using a speculum to pry her vagina open, offers the audience a look. As amazing as this may seem, in its glory and horror, the lead-in is at least as interesting, and infinitely more subversive. (After all, women have been displaying themselves for money since time began.) Sprinkle says that she wants to show us her cervix for three reasons: because it’s fun (by saying this aloud, she lifts the heaviness right off, making it seem just another kinky little experience), because most people haven’t seen one, and because “I want men to see that there are no teeth in there.” She delivers that line with a seductive, beguiling smile.

Prior to propping open her vagina, Sprinkle brings out a pair of simplistic, pink, and utterly nonthreatening illustrations of the female reproductive organs. Then, smile intact, she names each organ individually, asking the audience–mostly men–to repeat after her. They do. And it soon becomes clear, from the nervous titters and even their own admissions, that for many this is the first time they’ve said the words aloud.

“Wow, that’s the most beautiful cervix I’ve ever seen,” said a 40-ish man as he used a flashlight to look inside Sprinkle. He stood up straight, smiled sheepishly, and added: “Of course, it’s the only cervix I’ve ever seen–and I’ve got kids!”

That, of course, is the point: Not just that this guy should go through the motions of looking at Sprinkle’s cervix, but that he be comfortable enough to admit his awe. Time after time, Sprinkle makes outrageous acts feel safe. Over and over, she gets audience members–particularly men–to participate in the most revealing of ways.

While she was douching Sprinkle looked up, eyes doelike, and said, “How about that Clarence Thomas?” It was both silly and perfect. There we were, privy to this wildly intimate moment. Were we supposed to look? Were we supposed to act as ho-hum as she was? It’s not as if we actually engaged in political discourse with her after the Thomas line, but it helped defuse the tension. We laughed. And so did she. Hell, doesn’t everyone pee?

After peeing, she offered the tissue with which she’d wiped herself to a middle-aged man with a ring of gray hair around his head. “Do you want it?” Sprinkle asked, smiling. He grinned, shrugged, but didn’t move. “Well, I’ll leave it here for you,” she said, setting the wad just to the side of the onstage toilet. “You can pick it up later, you know, during intermission or when nobody’s looking.” After intermission I checked: the urine-soaked tissue was gone.

Whether the man, who seemed perfect for the part of porn consumer, was a theatrical plant or not is beside the point. Eagerly awaiting Sprinkle’s every move, he was a consummate foil, the perfect representative of all the porn-patron stereotypes: sleazy, overeager but oddly shy, and armed with a very phallic Pentax. Sprinkle literally played to it. “How about a parted-lips shot?” she asked, opening her legs and expertly parting her costume and labia with one hand. The man popped several bulbs in her direction, a shit-eating grin never leaving his face.

It was a weird moment: Who was being exploited? Sprinkle, who planned it but who would later be objectified in the photographs? Or the man, temporarily embarrassed in front of the audience but who would have the pictures and this crazy night to talk about later?

Perhaps it was the man being exploited this time, the tables completely turned from the usual porn dynamic. Sprinkle admits that part of her show is a game. “Did that look real?” she asks after a particularly well-acted orgasm. Again we laugh, though perhaps more nervously this time.

Audience identification probably hit its zenith during “The Transformation Salon,” a slide show whose before-and-after shots revealed that thoroughly ordinary women can become–through makeup, costume, and pose–sex goddesses, dominatrixes, the very stuff of wet dreams. (Such transformations made me wonder about all my neighbors’ secret lives.)

Post Post Porn Modernist is scary that way. What we find is often fascinating, but also repulsive. Curiously, Sprinkle seems to welcome–and understand–both reactions.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Eric Kroll.