Sex on Stage? You Better Know Your Reitz

Alex Emanuel, Will Dagger and Asa James in Daniel Reitz's Pucker Up and Blow.
Photo: Thomas Lyons McHugh.

In the annals of racy titles, the new play by Daniel Reitz, Pucker Up and Blow, surely ranks high. The play is currently running as part of the 2016 New York International Fringe Festival, directed by Paul Schnee.

Reitz’s plays have been developed and produced at Ensemble Studio Theatre, Manhattan Class Company, Mark Taper Forum, Naked Angels, New York Stage and Film, Playwrights Horizons, Primary Stages, The Public Theater, Rising Phoenix Repertory, Summer Shorts at 59E59 Theatre, and in London and Berlin. He adapted his Urban Folk Tales as the feature film Urbania, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival prior to release by Lionsgate Films. Awards include a NYFA fellowship, a New York Innovative Theatre Award, a Drama Logue Award, New Dramatists’ Lippmann Award; commissions have come from the Sloan Foundation, Baltimore Center Stage and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. He is a member of Ensemble Studio Theatre and Rising Phoenix Repertory, and an alumnus of New Dramatists.

Pucker Up and Blow centers around David, a young actor from the Midwest whose resume contains only children’s theatre credits. He is cast in a play by Robert Forsythe, New York’s “most inflammatory” playwright, infamous for productions laced with gratuitous nudity and simulated sex. David will be making his Broadway debut, but it means being stripped and forced to perform a lewd act — with his family watching in the audience. Along with professional degradation, David must contend with the personal tumult of being involved romantically with Melora, his ferociously ambitious and sexually straying leading lady.

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The cast of Pucker Up and Blow features Will Dagger as David, with Shane Allen, Sydni Beaudoin, Jeremy Burnett, Alex Emanuel, Asa James and Chandra Thomas.

Pucker Up and Blow performs at the Players Theatre (115 MacDougal St.) on Sat., Aug. 13 at 9:30pm; Sun., Aug. 14 at 7:15pm; Tue., Aug. 16 at 6;45pm; Fri., Aug. 19 at 4:30pm, and Tue., Aug. 23 at 2pm. For tickets, click here.

What’s the most perceptive question anyone has asked you about your work?

It’s not really a question but an observation, and it’s probably why I bother to keep writing plays: I’ve heard a lot of people refer to the moment in my plays when characters “turn” when something occurs that stops the audience cold. I’ve witnessed it — a kind of gasp in a character’s sudden, outrageous abashment. And the audience settles in queasily but somewhat merrily because they’ve witnessed something they secretly recognize.

What’s the most idiotic question anyone has asked you about your work?

Did I take to writing because my last name is Reitz (pronounced like “writes”)? I didn’t, astonishingly.

What’s the weirdest question anyone has asked you about your work?

I don’t recall a weird question. I’m only asked perceptive or idiotic questions.

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What’s the genesis for the play? Do you know any actors from the world of children’s theater and are you imagining how bananas it would be to put them in the situation of Pucker Up and Blow? Or is this purely a playwright’s imagination run amok?

The genesis is the outrage I felt when I saw a particularly ludicrous piece of alleged theater that featured acres of genitalia — breasts, vulvas, scrotums, erections, rectums. It was the cheesiest kind of bad ’70s exploitation film, except it was live, involving actors I cared about, and produced by a so-called reputable theater. We’ve all seen manipulative and inept plays, but this was a first: the actors were being viciously exploited. It would be one thing if there had been any kind of a play in between the copulation with something called direction. There wasn’t.

How much nudity and/or simulated sex have you seen on stage, and when you do, do you find it gratuitous more often than not? Or not?

I imagine I’ve seen the same amount as anybody else. I can’t say, except for the play I specifically mentioned, that I’ve seen a grotesquely gratuitous amount. Theater reflects our drives, and those drives are often longing, desire and love. These drives are often expressed in the visual arts and dance with exposed flesh because bodies are essential to human expression, and we don’t question it. What makes theater different? Well, because it’s live, of course, so there’s an emotional charge involved. In fact, there’s nudity in Pucker Up and Blow. But it has a deadly serious reason for being: it’s to explicitly demonstrate the sadism of exploitation. It’s punitive and ugly.

“Bonus” question:

Do you think actors are, in general, degraded by their professional experience? Why or why not?

That’s a question best put to actors. Witnessing the ineptitude that inspired me to write this play, all I can say is that if the actors didn’t feel degraded, we in the audience felt the degradation for them. Apparently this “playwright,” not satisfied with raping his actors, decided what the hell and had, in his latest tawdry opus, an actor jerking off into his audience, hitting the front row with fake ejaculate. It’s the logical extension after you’ve contemptuously degraded your actors: demoralize your paying audience.

After the merciful end of this garbage “play,” I was rushing to the exit and nearly tripped over an actor acquaintance — we were like Olympic sprinters gasping toward the finish line. We stopped to exhale. “I feel like I need to take a shower after that,” he said. There was no question that he was, as an actor in a theater watching his confederates, witnessing abject exploitation. The gratuitousness was like Trump: so obvious.