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How Patriarchy Came Tumbling Down

By Joe MARTIN Hill

David Gammons's spirited production of Robert Coover's Sexgod is not for the narrow-minded or weak-stomached, though these types might benefit most from it. This raw production shatters our society's complacency about love, sex, and sexism, providing radical insight into the deep-seated problems in our patriarchal culture.


Directed by David Gammons

At the Adams House Billiard Room

Through October 28

Sexgod consists of two one-act works, Love Scene and A Theological Position. Love Scene presents the pantomime meeting of Man (Billy Hulkower) and Woman (Tanya Selvaratnam) controlled by an off-stage Director (Gammons) who barks his commands. Gammons attempts to create the magic meeting between Man and Woman by giving the characters bizarre motivations, once asking them to think of an old lady and a dog having sex.

The actors are not enticed by the strange scenarios. Much to the audience's amusement--and unfortunately to Hulkower's, as well--the Director becomes more excited, vehement and base as the deadpan players continue to bumble his instructions.

Man and Woman are automatons throughout the first play. The limited space of the Adams House Billiards Room and the absence of any dialogue further restrict the action. Director Gammons does an admirable job of providing the "action" with his vehement and amusing direction. But the repetitious Love Scene provides us ample opportunity to scrutinize the rest of the audience without missing anything.

Man and Woman assume new personas in the second and more interesting of the two plays, A Theological Position. The work opens in media res, after Man has brought the pregnant Woman to Priest (Richard Claflin). Apparently, Man is questioning the puzzling genesis of their unborn child. He wants help and advice from the Priest--some allusion is made to the possible demonism of Woman, but we do not discover the details until later. Playwright Coover's attitude toward the church is clear as the Priest voices his self-righteous rigidity. He says of the pregnancy, "Even if it should occur, we could not permit it."

In the ensuing events, the Priest attempts to play voyeur, suggesting that watching the couple copulate will legitimate the pregnancy in the eyes of the Church. Man turns the tables, however, when he suggests that the priest perform the sexual rite. Since the priest "only wishes to help," he has sex with the Woman, affirming that "[i]t is entirely legal." Even the act of sex is cast in his narrow-minded yet perverse religiosity. "To make of that She a knowable her, but at the same time transubstantiate the self...I've got the sweet taste of trinities in my mouth," he cries.

Unsated by his first sexual act, he begins again. The violent copulation which follows is quite disturbing--more so because a strobe light allows only a partial view of the madness of the sexual act enveloping an otherwise pitch black room.

Claflin is dynamic in this role as he portrays the stringent authority of the church in conflict with his own base selfishness. Hulkower plays Man with a touch of psychosis, but this interpretation becomes remotely credible only when we discover "his problem."

His wife's vagina talks. He has tricked the priest into copulation so that he too might experience the phenomenon of Woman's biting vagina. Man hopes the Priest will advise him, despite the Priest's initial anger at being duped. The two men bond as enemies of the otherness represented by the voice of a feminist vagina. Selvaratnam looks sufficiently loathsome as she writhes about the pool table, her "talking" vagina chasing the Priest.

But the voice of the vagina is that of Jenny Davidson, whose venomous delivery forcefully presents the never-heard voice of woman suffering under the oppression of patriarchal culture. "We've been living in the stone age. We've had enough of old sausage Gods," she snaps. The dialogue of the two male characters unfortunately distracts from the vagina's pronouncements. And this commentary on patriarchal culture, particularly as it is represented in the church, is important.

This noteworthy production has a meaningful and novel close. After the two men are harassed by the talking vagina, their penises apparently become defensive, and as a result, inexplicably vocal. Their voices, we imagine, are not so different from what the voice of an unoppressed woman would be. Sexgod challenges both the actors and the society from which they are born, and Gammons's production is a worthy one. But the viewers, educated in A Theological Position, must wonder why, even here, the dicks have the last word.

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