Review: “Don’t Reach in the Bag” at The Tank

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Anthony J. Piccione

  • New York Theatre Critic

Porn.

Just the word alone invokes something dirty, kinky, and raunchy. Naturally, when hearing about a place such as a porn video store – back in the late-90s, when video stores were still a thing – one might think exactly how dirty could such a place potentially be, if they’ve never been inside one. Yet one new solo show which recently played at The Tank as part of the Speak Up, Rise Up festival this past week – Don’t Reach in the Bag – is here to show a more human side to the reality of what it’s like to work in such an environment.

Written and performed by Shalewa Sharpe, with the help of slides projected on screen, the audience is taken into the depths of the video pornography store where our lead performer once worked in real life. Thanks to Ms. Sharpe’s vivid descriptions, it’s not hard to imagine the imagery of the store, over the course of the show. From where the gay sections and barely legal sections of the store are, to the attitudes and clothing of both the workers and the customers, to all the documented disgusting incidents (including one where a man shits outside in the parking lot, for the workers to see) that took place the store. We’re taken right there, to the inside mind of what it was like to sell and rent porn videos for a living.

I’ve seen several solo shows throughout my time as a critic. Some were good at telling stories that required a bit more imagination that what was provided by the stage itself, while others simply felt underwhelming. This show most certainly excels in this test, thanks to Sharpe’s clear talent as both a writer who pays attention to detail, and a performer who tells her stories with both humor and charisma that make it impossible to stop paying attention to each word she says.

Needless to say, this show was not for those out there who don’t enjoy raunchy humor or stories. However, for those of us who don’t mind, it’s easy to see the show for what it is: Well-written and well-spoken storytelling, at its finest, and from a work perspective that is rarely heard from on stage. Unfortunately, because it’s a one-night only event, I’m not able to recommend any future performances, despite the fact that I would, if there were any. Nonetheless, this did provide me a promising preview of the rest of what The Tank was offering this weekend, as part of this unique storytelling festival…

“Don’t Reach in the Bag” ran for one night only at The Tank as part of the Speak Up, Rise Up festival on August 9th. For more information, please visit www.thetanknyc.org.