According to James Gangl, sex can be like hitting a deer with your car. Even if you're driving at a steady pace, a deer might show up in your headlights. And regardless of the outcome, you'll still probably drive again someday.
"In Search of Cruise Control" is a must-see act within Come Inside: A Sex & Culture Theater Festival, the looming theme of which is to unite people through sexual intimacy. The festival's go-to tool is dialogue, enacted through enticing, interactive performances. At times, Gangl's act seems like a spotlessly rehearsed stand-up routine, but it's also a call to arms for those who have suffered from unpredictable variables such as sexual abuse.
The majority of Gangl's performance is a monologue that centers on his history with Catholicism and his decision as a teenager to forego sex until marriage. At a whopping twenty seven years old, Gangl finally got it in, still thirteen years shy of Steve Carrell's character in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, which sparked the cultural revelation that virgins exist after college. (After his set, one female attendee expressed her relief to Gangl that losing her own virginity at twenty-three was suddenly not so outlandish).
Even after Gangl loses his virginity, he still faces the stunting consequences of having sex. Gangl speaks freely about a racist woman he slept with repeatedly on a cruise ship. He laments the decision that he slept with a racist, but he doesn't regret the sex itself. However, his decision to sleep with this particular bigot didn't come with a condom. She ended up pregnant and suffered a miscarriage, a heavy emotional blow for both players involved.
Ganging up on his past, Gangl utilizes a trusty stage director who wistfully changes the color of the various spotlights as Gangl speeds through a cornucopia of tones throughout this short piece. One moment, he's in the default bright yellow light, playfully exaggerating his mother's Maltese accent.
Later on, the overhead lights shift into a dusty blue and the audience grows cold; here, Gangl professes one of his dirtiest secrets. And though this secret is kinky, it's not a celebrated remark as it is derived from a series of devastating events lacking consent. But even at this point, Gangl retains a sense of humor. He reminds us that his performance piece is not about his past, but rather it's about the man he has become; Gangl highlights his inability to let his most evocative memories define him, even if they do continue to play an active role in his work.
This is where the topic of religion makes a slight comeback. Suddenly, Gangl, who you might suspect to be a Jesus freak after briefly skimming the show description, is actually practicing religion as a cathartic distraction. By saving himself sexually, or what's left of his virginity, he is the one in control. But now that Gangl has accepted his own fate, he can reject any source of misguided self-preservation; through this, there is strength. Due to the force of this defiance, an audience member can defiantly walk away from the show still visualizing Gangl's erect index finger which he used to illustrate the size of his penis.
SEE IT: Come Inside: A Sex & Culture Theater Festival, runs until Oct. 8. Check out Dance Naked Productions' website for the full schedule.