Porn as art…or, the dildo as metaphor
|Bard and Fool Theater Group presents|
Review by Lawrence Bommer
There’s a great song in Pal Joey (now playing at Porchlight Music Theatre) called “Zip”: This solo show-stopper gently mocks the famous burlesque artiste Gypsy Rose Lee, contrasting her intellectual aspirations with the actual striptease she performs at Minsky’s (“I was reading Schopenhauer last night [bump and grind]/ And I think Schopehauer is right”). That kind of sweet satire provide the pleasure in Adult Entertainment, a two-act lifestyle comedy from the great comedienne Elaine May (former partner of Mike Nichols in Chicago’s golden age of comedy).
In the nostalgic style of the film “Boogie Nights,” May gently spoofs six adult-film stars desperate to break away from the likes of their late porn producer’s sleazy “Between Her Legs,” “Dangling Participle,” and “Hannibal Lickedher.” Proclaiming on a public access show salaciously called “Heidi-the-Ho Show” that they will now be called Fireworxxx Studio, the hopefuls enlist cameraman Gerry (Ross Egan), who once went to Yale, to give their new outlet a respectability that Vixen Fox can never achieve from a “Best Anal” award. Her colleagues include hapless screenwriter Guy (Ben Veatch), the well-endowed stud muffin Jimbo (Corey Weinberg), aging fluffer and chorine Frosty (Jillian Weingart), talk show hostess Heidi (Whitney Rappana), and pole dancer Vixen (Cassandra Clingon). Intoxicated with a “Cahiers du Cinema” snobbish mindset, Gerry will become an “auteur” and turn these X-rated entertainers into intellectual and sophisticated icons a la Gypsy Rose Lee or Merchant and Ivory. For him, even a dildo can become a metaphor.
It’s doomed from the start, but the transformation makes delightful comedy. Aiming for a crack-brained kind of artistic ambiguity and a repudiation of 1950s respectability, this concept-ridden pseudo-director quickly steeps these curiously innocent souls in Marlowe’s “The Jew of Malta,” Wilder’s “Our Town,” John Gay’s “The Beggar’s Opera,” Miller’s “Death of a Salesman,” Flaubert’s “Un Coeur Simple,” and the poems of Dylan Thomas and W.B. Yeats. It doesn’t make their artistic porn any more palatable, but it’s sweet to see them elevate their trash trade with style and standards. Even if they won’t “settle” for exotic cinema, they’ve created their own brand or, as the Bard put it, “a poor thing but mine own.”
The dreamers run afoul of bad logistics (smut really defies subtexts) and Gerry’s multifaceted incompetence. But they finally come together, so to speak, in an utterly bewildering version of the Icarus legend.
It’s fascinating how innocent a comedy about sex industry workers creating “porn art” or “art porn” can feel. The sextet are quintessentially American even as they manage to dumb down everything they touch—cocky, ignorant, eager and painfully human. The play ends with Gay’s wonderful epitaph: “Life is a joke and all things show it/ I thought that once but now I know it.”
Adult Entertainment continues through May 19th at Apollo Theater Chicago, 2540 N. Lincoln (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays 2pm. Tickets are $12-$15, and are available by phone (773-935-6100) or online through Ticketmaster.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at ApolloChicago.com.
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