Believe this or not, pornography and cinematic artistry briefly came together in the mid-1970s. Long after smutty 8mm shorts were shown in back rooms of men’s clubs, but before videos were rented from windowless cinder-block buildings on Wilkinson Boulevard, the Adult Film Association of America tried to legitimize its product with complicated plots and acting of a higher quality. The first Erotic Film Awards appeared in 1977, and they continue in a different form today.
That’s the backdrop for “The Performers,” a comedy by David West Read set in Las Vegas at the Adult Film Awards. (The real ceremony is hosted by the Adult Video Network at Hard Rock Cafe, during a huge annual convention.)
The play takes place in a world where actors named Mandrew and Sundown think they’re making art with projects such as “Spontane-ass.” The play doesn’t so much deflate pretensions – why would it need to? – as reveal them to be only marginally more delusional than standard-issue Hollywood thespians, who make mind-numbing action movies and try to pass them off as character studies to inflate their egos.
You can see why this show lasted four days on Broadway in 2012. First, the cheerfully filthy dialogue will scare off all but the least offendable patrons, though we never see any private parts. Second, it’s funny, but mostly in an assaultive way based on sex. Third, it wraps up too easily; characters who have rightly bickered and battled wave problems away in a few lines.
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Until then, it’s mostly a hoot. Mandrew (Kristian Wedolowski) agonizes over his craft in an interview with old friend Lee (Scott A. Miller), now a reporter for the New York Post. Sara (Veda Covington), Lee’s fiancée, gets put off by his fascination with porn and initiates a fling with Chuck Wood (Hank West), an aging braggart of an actor who stands up for his industry.
Sundown (Alyson Lowe), who has the IQ of a protozoa, waggles new synthetic breasts at Peeps (Karen Christensen), whose marriage to Mandrew may be threatened by this dizzy interloper. To ask us to feel real emotion for these people, as Read eventually does, is unreasonable. But while they’re behaving like loons, they’re entertaining.
Wedowloski designed a versatile set for little Duke Energy Theater, and Emily Eudy’s lighting (complete with what look like the reflections of blinking neon) summons Vegas for us. Director Glenn Griffin, mindful of the improbability of most of what Read has given him, aims for maximum zaniness and gets it.