Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Truer words were never spoken, at least in the artificially tanned and toned world of pornographic movies. Elaine May's comedy brings the porn world into collision with Reality as an ambitious cameraman leads a bunch of sex stars to new heights.
In HotCity's current production, director Chuck Harper has made every moment count, whether it's the vacuous giggle of its hilarious leading lady (Larissa Forsythe) or the varied and troubled ruminations of her cohorts, as they begin to look the Great Thinkers square in the eye.
When their long-time filmmaker dies, his brother (played by the fine entertainer Jerry Russo) takes charge, himself an aspiring director. Soon after, Ms. Forsythe's cameraman on her cable access "Heidi the Ho Show" breeches their circle to elevate skin flicks to the realm of Art.
Matt Kahler plays that cameraman, a Yale boy who can't quite make it in the real world. He, and everyone in the cast, is very fine throughout. The comedy rises in part from the excruciatingly perceptive takes on the "industry" and the clash of the lowbrow with the high (as Mr. Kahler acquaints his "actors" with Flaubert and Faulkner).
Mention must be made of Nathan Ruyle's wickedly funny videos for the play: Four are commercials for a "900" sex chat service featuring Ms. Forsythe, the highly-respected Carrie Hegdahl as "Frosty Moons," Jared Sanz-Agero (as "Jumbo Jimbo") and Julie Venegoni as Vixen Fox; all projected on a back-drop and on TV sets flanking the stage. In her video, Ms. Hegdahl accomplishes something subtly, comedically excellent: she makes her brainless "Frosty" seem stunned to be lip-synching to her own voice in a cheesy music video. I was amazed at the artfulness of Ms. Hegdahl's approach (not to mention Mr. Ruyle's suddenly erect drag-race cars). Mr. Sanz-Agero captures, intentionally or not, a quintessentially true "male porn" moment in his commercial clip, during an accidentally sincere moment of self-mocking laughter. The usually wholesome Ms. Venegoni is shockingly believable in her own little spot. Her business-like salaciousness is a jarring departure in itself.
Elsewhere, the glassy-eyed "come-hither" looks of Ms. Forsythe and Ms. Hegdahl suggest a tragi-comic inner battle between worn-down shame and prefab desire. Their haunted stares also remind us that promiscuity can turn a human heart inside-out.
Each actor contributes wise and touching insights into the psychology of putting sex on film, but there is very little about Adult Entertainment that's particularly offensive or threatening. Perhaps this mildness helps the play succeed when we are caught in the newfound depths of each of them. We might not have followed into those uncharted waters if their clumsy humanity hadn't been leading the way.
The porn actors' depths are plumbed after their introduction to Dylan Thomas, Thornton Wilder and Ludwig Wittgenstein and to "Method" style improvisation. No one is more stunned than these dim, drugged-out sex stars, as their late night sex-talk show turns into a fumbling adolescent exploration of their inner-selves. (Playwright May has also managed a rather astonishing literary feat, linking those chair-bound porn stars to the graveyard scene at the end of Our Town.)
But again, the HotCity production is brilliantly funny, even as it couches its brains between its legs. And once the group gets a short course in the liberal arts, you can see a sudden sense of fulfillment and idealism in their faces, even as they recycle the Old Testament into flesh-film fodder. As "happy endings" go, this one is most gratifying.
Adult Entertainment continues through May 7 (2005) at the Art Loft Theatre, 1529 Washington Ave. The excellent costumes are by Laura Hanson. For information, go to www.hotcitytheatre.org or call (314) 482-9125.