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7 Blowjobs

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Great playwrights, in penning political satire, are able to transcend time and circumstance so that their plays remain relevant long after the names and places have changed. Mac Wellman is not such a playwright, as is demonstrated by the current production of his play 7 Blowjobs at the Trilogy Theater.

A quick glance through the show's program tells you all you need to know about the inspiration behind Thin Duke Productions's new production of the show. A note from the playwright on the cast listing page explains that the show was written in 1991, with a supporting quote taken from the author's 1985 appearance in Minneapolis. That the cover bears images of such current political figures as George W. Bush, Ari Fleischer, and Donald Rumsfeld suggests this production wanted to point up the relevance of this play to our current political climate.

Director Philip Cruise succeeds in making no such case, as the play proves neither a cutting - nor particularly funny - satire on Washington or politics in general in 2003, 1991, or any other year. Stock characters and familiar basic situations don't help Wellman's case here, and give Cruise and his performers little to work with on most levels. The story finds a Republican senator's office bombarded with a series of photos depicting the title's sex acts, with just about everyone feigning horror or outrage in one breath and finding at least something of value in it the next.

Along the way, there are typical declamations of life at Bob Jones University and Dartmouth, an indictment of homosexuality from someone who may or may not be gay himself, and even a revivalist meeting when a prominent televangelist conducts a service in the senator's office. In terms of plotting, Wellman seldom gets more clever than having the senator's son and a decoy (to draw attention from possible surveillance in the wake of threats on the office) occupy the stage - and the senator's thoughts - at the same time.

Cruise and his actors succeed primarily at connecting with the rhythms of the play's dialogue, which approach poetic at some points and machine-like at others; this helps provide a fair amount of much-needed aural variety to the show. Elizabeth Neptune, playing one of the senator's assistants, has it down pat, and finds a great deal of comedy in her lines, even though a significant percentage of them involve telling other characters to "bag" it, and Cruise does fine by his role as her morally and sexually hypocritical colleague. Billy Steel (as Senator Bob), Madeleine Maby (as his receptionist), and Edward Miller (as Reverend Tom) often seem to be in a different play from the others, their performances less grounded and less effective.

Then again, with Wellman's work itself not grounded, why expect more from the actors? As an exercise in generalities, 7 Blowjobs is amusing at best, and then only occasionally. But the only thing truly provocative about the show itself is the title.

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Thin Duke Productions
7 Blowjobs
Through July 13
Trilogy Theatre, 341 West 44th Street, 2nd floor, between 8th and 9th Avenues
Schedule and Tickets: SmartTix