The Country Co-Ed is a sex comedy. Everybody likes sex, right? Everybody likes comedy, correct? So how could things go wrong?
Well. it’s a little more complicated than that. The Country Co-Ed is based loosely on William Wycherley’s Restoration Comedy, The Country Wife. There are a lot of interesting things to know about the English Restoration, which was roughly simultaneous to the reign of King Charles II, running from 1660-1685, but the most important from our point of view is that it was much different than now. Consider:
In The Country Wife, the rascal Horner deliberately floats a rumor that a treatment for venereal disease has rendered him impotent. Thus the men around town, hitherto unwilling to give Horner any access to their wimminfolk, now seek him out as a chaperone and escort. Given this freedom, Horner has his way with any number of them. In the meantime, the unpleasant Pinchwife has acquired a wife from the country, on the theory she would be less likely to cuckold him than someone more sophisticated. He keeps her locked up, but Horner finds a way past his defenses (and hers, if she had any.) When word of Horner’s impotence reaches Mrs. Pinchwife, she seeks to set the record straight, but is persuaded not to do so. Hilarity ensures.
You see the problem, I hope. You cannot base a modern play on the premise that men control women’s sexuality, or that sexual desire or expressiveness is the exclusive provenance of men. So playwright Michael Boynton, assisted by John Mackey, Sam Eddy and Larry Mason, work on the script with a will. What they come up with is a little funny, a bit creepy and not terribly plausible.
Jack Horner (Aaron Williams), Rake-in-Chief at Fornica University, has a bitter rivalry with Dani Dickinson (Catie Stahlkuppe), an outspoken feminist. They decide to have a contest to see who can have the most sex (with other people) over the University’s Homecoming weekend. The winner will be the number one player at old F.U. (this is not a subtle play).
The Country Co-Ed
closes July 29, 2018
Details and tickets
On his wing, Horner has the loyal Hart (Eric Wilkerson) and The D (Mackey). The D is a gay pre-med student interested in the uses of medical marijuana; Horner points out to us that no self-respecting player would fail to have a gay wingman. Dani has support, too: the virginal Ally (Chloe Barnes) and Lucy (Eddy), who Ally describes as her “bi-sexual, transgendered BFF!” Lucy is an enormous asset to Dani, being adept with both a grappling hook and a bolt cutter, necessary devices to advance the action. Ally is less so, but she is important because of family connections.
That family connection is her brother, Dean Richard Johnson (Mason), who is given a less-than-affectionate nickname based on a common diminutive for his first name and sexual slang for his second, both names thus becoming the same. The shoe fits, too; Dick-Dick is an ass. Aside from screaming at the students for having fun, his principal occupation is to keep his new wife, Marge (Meghan Phelps) — who he got from an Amish mail-order service — confined and under lock and key in his house. For good measure, he keeps sister Ally there, too.
Horner, like his 343-year-old literary progenitor, decides to enhance his chances by spreading a rumor that he can’t get it up. Amazingly, it works. Dani also thinks that she needs something to stimulate interest (other than saying, “Hey, you awake?” which is generally sufficient for college-age males), so she decides to date the most repulsive person on campus, Sparkman (Dakota Yarbrough). Her theory is that when men see her with Sparkman, they will all know that they can beat that competition and rush to her side.
Let the games begin! Other than Dani and Jack’s amazing race, the principal business of the play is to liberate Marge, the Country Co-Ed, from her sexual ignorance and bring her to the land of pleasures, including grapefruiting (you can look it up). Things pretty much conform to expectations. There is an unexpected romance, as there is in The Country Wife. At one point, Johnson decides he can take his wife to a party, but only if he keeps her on (literally) a leash. Dude! It’s not that kind of party!
The cast is composed of students from the Drama Department of Jacksonville (Alabama) State University, where Boynton is a Drama professor. They do a creditable job with the text, especially Williams, Stahlkuppe, Wilkerson, Barnes and Eddy, who are their characters at every moment they are on stage. Phelps also does a good job, although she cannot make some of Marge’s more ridiculous lines sound natural. I thought Mason was a little over-the-top, though certainly Boynton wrote (and probably directed) him that way. I would have preferred more sneer — a little more William Atherton — in the role, and less screaming.
One of the good things that this cast (which calls itself the Flying Blind Theatre Ensemble, which is maybe why they ended up in the Blind Whino) does is that they have largely mastered the difficult space. I saw two plays in the Blind Whino turquoise room in which the space swallowed up and garbled the lines, but Flying Blind largely avoids that problem. I noticed that much of the action takes place at the front of the playing space, which may have been a key to the solution; when they deliver lines from the rear, they tend to be more difficult to understand.
(Note: While the Fringe site lists this show as 2 hours, its actual run time is 1 hour, 40 minutes without intermission)
The Country Co-Ed, loosely based on The Country Wife, by William Wycherley, produced, directed and adapted by Michael Boynton (who takes ensemble roles) . Additional writing by Sam Eddy (who also is responsible for the music), Larry Mason (who also serves as technical director) and John Mackey, who are in the cast along with Aaron Williams, Catie Stahlkuppe, Eric Wilkerson (who is also responsible for the music), Chloe Barnes (who also serves as assistant director and is responsible for public relations, marketing and fundraising), Meghan Phelps, Dakota Yarbrough (who also does the props), Colton Cram (who also serves as assistant director), Shauna Steward (who also serves as assistant director), Anastasia Barker, Ansley Gayton (who also serves as costume designer), and Jessica Holmes (who also is assistant producer) . Brooke Elam is the stage manager . Produced by Flying Blind Theatre Ensemble . Reviewed by Tim Treanor.