Produced by sloe-eyed productions as part of the New York International Fringe Festival at The Kraine Theater, 85 E. Fourth St., NYC, Aug. 10-26.
When Off-Off Broadway was more a fringe movement than the Fringe's home, the stage version of the 1970s porn flick "Debbie Does Dallas"—seemingly cutting-edge, envelope-pushing, satirical—would be viewed as the reason why OOB exists. Before "Urinetown," before "Rent," OOB wasn't just a ticket to Broadway fame. Creative acclaim, yes—but lacking the revenue "Debbie" derives dabbling in the world's oldest profession.
Yet now that "Urinetown," last year's hit in the New York International Fringe Festival, has proven OOB's viability anew as a commercial transfer lab, all bets are off as to what's art and what's a ploy for attention. Susan L. Schwartz, who plays Debbie, helped adapt the script, and with Brock Enright, who staged the piece more than directed it, "Debbie" dares to be both.
"Debbie" is numbing and nimble, frisky and fatuous, depending on the scene. Like a painter who covers his canvas guided only by what sells, Schwartz and Enright haven't fully embraced their own, ostensibly funny viewpoints about cheesy '70s porn, so a number of bits never bite. For every inspiring sight gag, there are meandering patches that just aren't funny—or not as funny as they could be.
While Matthew Ronay's deliriously goony set pieces are a mirthful feast, the scene changes themselves are terrible. A bizarre interlude involving a slide projector pointed into the audience is artistically inexplicable. Crediting Ben Brantley, chief drama critic of The New York Times, as sound engineer is cloying. If this is satire, where's the send-up?
Look for it in the earnest, poker-faced naïveté of "The Girls"—played by Allison Du Val, Ariel Sheldon, Renata Hinrichs, Theresa Young, Tonya Canada, Jill Madeo, and Marian Heller, each given several (pardon the expression) touching moments. Gary Widlund, Tim Beemer, Ross Steeves, Bryant MacMillan, Jonathan Hyland, Adam Chandler, Theodore Bouloukos, and Matthew Armstrong are all giggle-inducing man-clichés. Yet with Schwartz herself lacking charisma amidst chaotic direction, the tittering and titillation still tank.