What do you think of this script for a possible Merchant/Ivory film? Fade in on Melissa, a young, very three-dimensional woman, sitting on a lounge chair in her underwear. Tina, her faithful maid, comes in to tell Melissa that her lover is at the door — with another man. They reminisce about Melissa’s first date — a night at the prom with her long-ago boyfriend, Bud. The memory sends them into an amorous reverie, and soon thought becomes action. As this happens, Melissa’s lover barges through the door, with the other man — who happens to be Bud. Or maybe Bud’s son, it’s not decided. They proceed to have sex….
No? Not exactly “Remains of the Day”? But, as the participants in a well-known public access porn talk show hosted by Heidi the Ho (Ellie Nicoll) ask each other, why can’t porn be art? Or art be porn, for that matter? They are gathered to mark the death of the great porn director, Marty Akins, whose 2500 productions dwarf the output of Martin Scorsese (24 films) and David Lynch (38) combined. Marty’s brother Guy (Tony Greenberg) who notes that he is a director in legitimate (regional) theater, is in attendance, as are the porn megastars Frosty Moons (Paige O’Malley), who once played the iconic Melissa Ryan, and Jimbo (Steve Lebens), who starred in Jumbo. Vixen (Zoe Walpole) calls in. I do not believe that these are their real names, but the text is silent on the issue.
After giving the magnificent Marty his props, the host and guests fall to musing. Why couldn’t they film a porno with the same artistic and emotional wallop as, say, Citizen Kane? Guy promises to put together a script — one so serious and intense that it will take him almost two weeks to write! Regrettably, the final product lacks that certain je ne sais quoi, and our art-besotted crew decides to bring on a new writer: Gerry (Erik Harrison), the talk show’s cameraman, who went to Yale and thus must know some stuff.
He does, too. He knows Flaubert, and Arthur Miller and Yeats, and Dylan Thomas — and he makes his benighted cast learn them, in order that they be prepared to convey the emotional impact of his script. Playwright Elaine May’s overriding joke is that the members of the cast of this new movie all have the IQs of toasters — and not those toasters with the special setting for bagels; the older, slower toasters. For example, Jimbo can’t help reading the stage directions into his dialogue. When Guy tries to explain that stage directions are the writing between the parenthesis, he is stymied because Jimbo doesn’t know what a parenthesis is. And Jimbo’s one of the smarter ones.
So does May condescend to her characters? To a certain extent, yes. The women are all infantilized, speaking in breathless baby-voices; Guy comes across as a Jersey goon, who might have flunked out of the Soprano clan; and Jimbo, his stare intense as he tries to comprehend his surroundings, and fails, adapts an accent straight out of Fargo. On the other side of the chasm, Gerry, as he tries to apply the techniques of Fellini and Bergman to what is essentially a film about people rubbing their genitals together, takes pretension and pomposity to previously inconceivable levels.
closes March 31, 2018
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But their freedom from education, and from thought generally, actually works to the great advantage of the characters. Unlike those of us who read great books in college, for a grade, our porn artists allow their hearts to be opened by this powerful literature, and to be moved by it without the need to intellectualize the writing or put it in some historical-literary context. Elaine May thus gives us a Rousseuvian perspective, where our thought-devoid heroes and heroines thrive…oh, hell, now I’m starting to sound like Gerry.
It’s hard to show off your acting chops when you’re in a show like Adult Entertainment, where the porn stars are all not only dreadful film actors but also fully inauthentic human beings, constantly selling themselves in order to land their next gig. The cast does about as well as anyone can with this material; although we may not be fully engaged they are wonderfully funny, and the dialogue flows smoothly from one moment to the next under Joe Banno’s steady direction. Lebens is as good as I’ve ever seen him as the dim, sweet-natured Jimbo and the scene in which Frosty Moons tries to explain The Jew of Malta to a wildly anti-Semitic caller (Sarah Klein) is priceless.
Original music is by the great Andrew Lloyd Baughman. I particularly liked “Bang Bank Orangu-tang,” which allowed Walpole to show off her wild gymnastic skills (Klein is the choreographer). Baughman also designed the theme song for the Heidi the Ho show, and several other nice pieces. [Hear Frosty Moons (Paige O’Malley) sing Baughman’s “Mechanic” here.]
There is a stripper pole on one side of the tiny Chaos on F space. Regrettably, the production does not use it, thus violating Chekhov’s famous injunction that if there is a gun over the mantelpiece in the first Act, it must be fired in the third. However, the Klunch has informed me that paying customers are welcome to try their hand prior to the play’s opening and for a reasonable time after its conclusion, and so I recommend that if you are so inclined, you use it to provide your own third Act.
Adult Entertainment by Elaine May, who also wrote the lyrics for the songs. Directed by Joe Banno (who is also one of the offstage voices) . Featuring Ellie Nicoll, Steve Lebens, Paige O’Malley, Tony Greenberg and Zoe Walpole . Costume design by Mei Chen . Sound design by Lucas Zarwell, who is also one of the off-stage voices . Set and light design: David C. Ghatan, assisted by Amanda Kircher . Props by Tara Lyman-Dobson . Original music by Andrew Lloyd Baughman . Choreography by Sarah Klein, who is also one of the off-stage voices . Laura Schlachtmeyer is the stage manager . Produced by The Klunch . Reviewed by Tim Treanor.