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The Fringe At Two Extremes

September 6, 2008

Yesterday evening at the San Francisco Fringe, I saw two theatre productions on a boy-meets-girl theme. But despite the similarity of the shows' subject matter, I've rarely had two more extreme experiences in a single evening's theatre-going to date.

The first show, Moon Fable, was a sweet and ardently sincere homage to young love produced by a company called SideCar Theatre. The second, Peg-Ass-Us, created by the New York company Pack of Others, was a graphic, no-holes-barred panegyric to heterosexual anal sex.

Moon Fable tells the story of a harried young office worker whose girlfriend disappears to Paris, leaving him in a dead-end job. In the youth's dreams, however, the moon and her consort of nutty sidekicks help him understand the importance of love. The production evolves in a surreal, dream-like fashion and includes some lovely visual moments such as when the young man's briefcase stuffed with papers opens in a dream to reveal a model of a tiny paper figure standing on top of a ladder trying to reach the moon. At the same time, the man himself is standing on top of a real-life ladder doing the same. If the show had been more expertly acted, its overall effect may well have been more tantalizing. But even though the production plodded along, it had its heart in the right place.

Peg-Ass-Us, on the other hand, told a completely different kind of romantic tale. The show, fittingly performed at San Francisco's Center for Sex and Culture, was part burlesque, part personal memoir and part how-to guide. The how-to was related to a sexual practice known as "pegging" which basically involves a man, a woman, a strap-on dildo and oodles of lubricant. I'll leave the rest to your imaginations. John Leo and Sophie Nimmannit make a winning couple. He's all reserved and highly strung; she's brash and aggressively sexual. There are some game little songs in the piece, including a clever ode to the mythical beast after which the show takes its name. But the central conceit about two people discovering the joys of anal sex gets a little boring after a while. By the time Nimmannit and Leo whip off their clothes, get out their sex toys and set about providing us with a live demonstration of pegging (from which we are thankfully actually spared at the 11th hour) we've pretty much had enough. Talk about flogging a dead unicorn.

In any event, it was amazing to see quite how different two interpretations of basically the same experience -- falling in love -- can be. And if it weren't for the Fringe, coming across this kind of theatre-going mix would be unlikely.

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