Jacqueline Novak Explores the Punditry of the Penis in 'Get On Your Knees'

by Robert Nesti

EDGE National Arts & Entertainment Editor

Monday September 13, 2021

Jacqueline Novak
Jacqueline Novak  (Source:Monique Carboni)

Do you remember your first blow job? Jacqueline Novak does in "Get On Your Knees," her quirky, funny exploration of the penis and the act of fellatio, and compares the experience to — of all things — an image out of T.S. Eliot. Alluding to a line from "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," she says, "I'm 16 and I have a boyfriend. I've got him on a bed 'like a patient etherized upon a table.' "

Novak, who premiered her solo piece at the Edinburgh Festival before taking it off-Broadway for a limited run in 2019, tells most everything you may ever want to know about a blow job in a breathless 90 minutes. Her show evolves with so many ideas and at such a speed she could have called it "The Punditry of the Penis." And be warned: An energy drink may be needed beforehand just to keep up with her.

That she held the audience in her hand — a mostly young and female audience at the Roberts Theatre at the Calderwood Pavilion — is proof of both how intriguing the audience finds her subject and immediately relatable her experiences are. Novak delivers her dense narrative in such an off-the-cuff manner that it seems she's making it as she goes along. (The seamless direction is by John Early.)

Novak offers little by way of introduction, instead immediately diving into sexual matters, or rather, their semantics. She considers herself something of a poet, but she's more an etymologist, cleverly deconstructing the meanings of words and terms usually thought as vulgar or slang. She prefers to replace the oft-used term "doggie-style" with "the hound's way," because it suggests the image of "two pioneers, headed west," as if on some great journey. Nor does she like the word "penis," which she finds weak because it slides out of the side of the mouth. Instead she prefers "cock," a word that begins and ends with hard consonants, as it should. And she belittles the meaning of "rock hard," because it isn't. "No geologist would say 'This quartz is penis hard.'" She finds the word "erection" something of a misnomer: "A bit architectural for what's going on there. No one's going in that building. It's not up to code." And there is also the question of teeth, which is a whole other matter and is discussed at some length.

There is a tension that comes with Novak appearing to be working out her issues that keeps the piece spontaneous, despite its numerous digressions and repetitions. These make it feel more like an extended stand-up routine than a fully rounded piece, and it is repetitive and bit too long. Interestingly, she never discusses such topics as penis size or circumcision, or that no two penises are the same. Instead, her focus is on a kind of Everyman penis and her comfort level with placing it in her mouth. There is even a moment when she suggests she would prefer not to be attracted to it all. At one point she rather identifies herself as a heterosexual woman with a tinge of regret, saying she "still lusts after the shaft," as if it is a curse in these pansexual times.

At the onset Novak addressed her performance anxiety, acknowledging how difficult it is for her to walk from backstage to the microphone. It must have felt even more heightened stepping out on the barest of stages (an empty black box), alone after this long dearth of not performing in front of a live, masked audience, also deprived of live performance for more than a year. That she disarmed them so easily with a topic so personal is proof of her skills as an artist.

"Get On Your Knees" is presented by Emerson Colonial Theatre

Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA†| Nancy and Edward Roberts Studio Theatre through September 19. For more details, visit the Emerson Colonial Theatre website.

Please note that the Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA requires all patrons present either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test (PCR test within 72 hours or antigen test within 24 hours) in order to enter the theatre. †Visit the Calderwood's COVID-19†Public Health Policies page†for additional information. †Last updated September 2, 2021.

Robert Nesti can be reached at [email protected].