Even now, 40 years after the sexual revolution declared victory and settled down to munch antibiotics and watch Deep Throat, it's rare to see women speaking frankly and openly about sex. With the few obvious exceptions—Ruth Westheimer, Violet Blue, Joycelyn Elders—female sexuality is still depicted in pop culture as either reluctant, hiding until some man comes along to cajole it out, or voracious, grotesque and indistinguishable from the lust for more shoes and Prada bags. To talk openly of personal desires is to expose oneself to ridicule, and most women (my wife tells me) would rather not.
Fair enough. But some people don't see why sex always needs to be so private, and Eleanor O'Brien is one of them. The Portland-born actress, who spent a stint in New York as a dominatrix, set out last year to create a performance piece based on Nancy Friday's My Secret Garden, a 1973 compilation of women's sexual fantasies, and a SurveyMonkey poll she conducted when her friends proved reticent about their erotic daydreams over Facebook. But the women she chose for the cast had other ideas, preferring to draw from their own fantasies, which they relate with commendable honesty and humor.
One would like to bang Obama. Another prefers the touch of the whip. This one entertains inappropriate thoughts about a student, and that one, well…rape at the fronds of alien plants is more her game. Some of the stories are silly, others touching, others bizarre. At least one, depending on your level of comfort with scar tissue, may shock you. But none of them are preachy—Inviting Desire is entirely free of the self-important didacticism one might expect from the subject matter.
The show premiered as a two-hour, seven-woman piece in January, during the Fertile Ground new works festival. Now O'Brien has remounted a compact, tour-ready version, 80 minutes long with four performers, for a short Portland run before taking it on the road to the Canadian Fringe Festival. It's a brightly paced romp, funny and moving and possibly inspirational for women and couples. Single men, though, should be warned: Awkwardness may be inevitable.
Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center, 5340 N Interstate Ave., dancenakedproductions.com. 8 pm Thursdays-Saturdays. 9 pm June 20. Closes June 27. $15.