'Jacqueline Novak: Get on Your Knees': Theater Review

Jacqueline Novak: Get On Your Knees-Publicity-H 2019
Monique Carboni
The funny side of going down.

The comedian tells you everything you ever wanted to know about oral sex in her one-woman show, presented by Natasha Lyonne, directed by John Early and executive produced by Mike Birbiglia.

"I'm very concerned with dignity," comedian Jacqueline Novak solemnly informs us early in her one-woman show. It's an admirable position to take, especially since Get on Your Knees is concerned almost entirely with — how do I put this delicately? — oral sex. Specifically, fellatio, although that clinical term is never uttered once throughout the evening. No, it's strictly "blowjob" for this performer, who's clearly given much thought to the subject so that we don't have to.

It would seem a fairly narrow topic for a 90-minute monologue, and in truth, it is. But the comedian invests her subject matter with such insight and imagination that she puts Dr. Ruth to shame. She's also damn funny in the process. It's no wonder such comedy heavy-hitters as Natasha Lyonne (Russian Doll), John Early (Search Party) and Mike Birbiglia (Sleepwalk With Me) are serving as the show's presenter, director and executive producer, respectively.

Walking onto the stage to the booming strains of Madonna's "Like a Prayer" and clad unassumingly in a gray t-shirt, gray jeans and gray sneakers (the drab monochrome outfit provides a striking contrast to her colorful material), Novak doesn't immediately seem like someone who's devoted as much thought to oral sex as, say, the chairman of the Federal Reserve to interest rate cuts. But clearly she has, particularly when it comes to the language used to describe particular sex acts.

She has little use for the term "doggy style," for instance, claiming that it lacks gravitas. She offers "the hound's way" as an alternative, likening the popular sexual position to lovers staring hopefully into the future together "like two pioneers, headed west." (Even while you're laughing at the highfalutin description, you realize that's exactly what will inevitably spring into your mind the next time you're doing it.)

Delivering her provocative and superbly articulated material with a disarming casualness that makes it seem like every thought she's expressing has just come to her, Novak leaves no sexual stone unturned. Naturally, the topic of genitalia figures prominently in the proceedings. But while she spends some time discussing female anatomy, likening the vulva to both a "tattered flag" and "a cheeseburger wrapped in foiled paper," it's the penis — a name she decries by the way, although she's not crazy about any of the alternatives, either — that inevitably receives the lion's share of her attention. She laments being a heterosexual, or, as she more piquantly puts it, a woman "that lusts after the common shaft."

It's "an object of almost no nuance," she complains, immediately belying her point by examining penises from every possible physical, emotional and intellectual angle. Coming across like a deeply philosophical urologist, she talks about the male sexual appendage in alternately affectionate and disparaging terms, ascribing to it the "soul of a poet" but also calling it "the ultimate drama queen." That she makes each of those descriptions, and many, many others, seem thoroughly credible is a testament to the depth of her amusing insights. Her dissection of the phrase "rock-hard boner" alone is worth the price of admission.

By the time Novak gets around to discussing the act obliquely referred to in the show's title, you may feel exhausted by the subject of sex in general. But she gives it freshness by talking about it in highly personal terms, describing her efforts to perfect her technique even while lamenting that it's something that can only be improved by experience. "I hate learning on the job!" she protests, sounding eminently reasonable. She's mortified when one lover informs her that she gives "kind of a toothy blowjob," but she ultimately finds a way to rationalize the critical comment in the most metaphysical terms.

Freud may or may not have famously said, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." But after seeing Get on Your Knees, you'll be convinced that a blowjob is never just a blowjob.

Venue: Cherry Lane Theatre, New York
Writer-performer: Jacqueline Novak
Director: John Early

Sound designer: Theda Hammel
Producers: Mike Lavoie, Carlee Briglia
Executive producer: Mike Birbiglia
Presented by Natasha Lyonne