Sexually, are you a conservative or a liberal?
If you’re solidly in the latter category — and if you’re willing to go on the record in front of a crowd of 200 with the naughty details of your, ahem, political leanings — this weekend brings a show made for you.
“Never Sleep Alone,” the popular cabaret in residence at Joe’s Pub at New York’s famed Public Theater, is making its D.C. debut Friday at Gypsy Sally’s. The show is so forward about its intentions that it first asks theatergoers to choose seats based on relationship status, and then abandon their inhibitions for an hour-long session of theatrical foreplay.
Choose a “singles” ticket, and you’re signing on for a firsthand lesson in the seductive arts from Dr. Alex Schiller, a flag-waving sexual evangelist who, like a one-woman Tinder, pairs off couples to teach them the fine art of making connections. Decide you’re demure, and you’re directed to the back with all the other “voyeurs,” who’d rather watch than join in. To determine how the show will play out, theatergoers are asked to arrive early for a blush-inducing “socio-sexual evaluation” and mingling; afterward, everyone is ushered to an after party where the lessons are expected to be put to use.
Behind this spoofy bit of down-market theater is performer and comedian Roslyn Hart, 34, who plays Dr. Alex. Hart launched the show in 2011 as an interactive faux seminar that would resonate with anyone who’s ever tried to meet anyone in the offline world. But Hart, who is based out of New York and Naples, Italy, quickly found an audience for Dr. Alex’s particular brand of pillow talk. A book, written in the voice of Dr. Alex, is in now the works, and Hart is D.C.-bound to test the logistics of taking her show on the road.
Friday’s performance, Hart says, will mimic the Joe’s setup, from the lighting and cabaret seating to the pop music, which is performed live by Hart’s four-piece band from New York.
Before “Never Sleep Alone” lands at Gypsy Sally’s, we talked with the performer by phone from New York about the show, and whether zipped-up Washington will want any part of all this crass fun. Edited excerpts from the interview are below.
How did you create the show? Did you hole up for a year with “Mars and Venus” books or were you working from your own observations about sex and dating?
Hart: I was sort of a late bloomer about sex and dating. I didn’t come into my own till I was in my late 20s, and it kills me to see people wasting the best years of their lives being awkward and scared and not realizing how magnificent they are. I’ve been a performer my whole life, and I’ve been a cabaret performer for years, and I hate people going to the theater and wanting to talk to each other but just not. I started to think about what people want when they go out at night, and what people want is to meet someone. I intended the show to just be absurd, to be a satire of a dating seminar with an overall theme: “You could die tomorrow. How do you want to spend your last night?” It’s an amalgam of everything I’ve been exposed to my whole life. It’s part Dr. Phil, part Suze Orman of sex, part Joyce Meyer, who is a TV evangelist. I love her style and I love the way she talks to people.
Each section of the show is accompanied by a song. What kind of music are you using?
We use pop songs, and we project all the lyrics so people can sing along. I think it’s important because when you go out to a bar and you see people connecting, it’s usually because of music. There’s a sort of mass hypnosis that occurs at a pop concert that’s always been really interesting to me. You can’t help but come together when you’re all singing Madonna mashed up with Nirvana, and Dr. Alex doesn’t give you a choice. She says, “Sing or leave.” That’s why it works. We’re all in it together.
Let’s say you buy a singles ticket. What happens to you when you walk in the door?
You give yourself over to Dr. Alex. You are asked the questions, and you mingle with everyone, whether they’re in the singles section or the voyeurs section. Everyone is told that if you’re sitting in the singles section, you’re agreeing to be an active participant. They’ll get different questions if they’re in a couple; we try to make everyone feel included. If you’re sitting in the singles section, you are basically agreeing that you may get pulled onstage for an onstage blind date. You may kiss a stranger. You are becoming an active part of the show. [If you’re single] be cool with being uncomfortable, too. Because at any second, I could pick you, or one of my “research assistants” could pick you. You’ll come onstage.
It’s not a sex show. It’s not a Bangkok-style gross thing. You’re on a date with someone, and you may want to kiss them, and the whole audience sure as hell wants you to kiss them. So why don’t you kiss them? You’ve got nothing to lose.
What do you know about D.C.? I don’t know if this will play here.
I know nothing about D.C., and I’m absolutely apolitical. I know the venue is very enthusiastic, and I have fans in D.C., fans of my blog who’ve seen the show in New York. I would estimate 50 to 100 people in the audience will have seen the show before. I know nothing, and that’s why I decided to do it. It’s logistically sort of a nightmare, but it’s an interesting experiment to see how D.C. will take to it. Because what’s not to like? Someone’s introducing you to a lot of other great single people, you’re going to laugh, you’re going to drink, we’re having an amazing after party. Who knows?
What boundaries, what walls do people have up when they come? I imagine you have an overview, from the stage. Can you see their hangups?
Yeah, I can see everybody. There’s a part where everybody has to hold hands with each other, and people are afraid to do that. You can see people looking around, like, “Who am I going to hold hands with?” People don’t even want to make eye contact with each other. So we start very easy. We say, look another human being in the eyes, and do not look away.