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LA Theater Review

'The Deep Throat Sex Scandal' Revisits the Swinging '70s

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'The Deep Throat Sex Scandal' Revisits the Swinging '70s
Photo Source: Ed Krieger

The time is ripe for David Bertolino’s “The Deep Throat Sex Scandal,” now strutting its stuff—quite literally—at the Zephyr Theatre. With a new generation of loud, proud, and well-funded conservative groups aggressively trying to overturn the dearly fought-for freedoms from censorship won in the sexual revolution of the 1970s, this dramatization of the creation of the trailblazing adult film “Deep Throat” and the subsequent repercussions is certainly relevant. 

The 1972 movie was conceived in the fertile mind of a Bronx-born hairdresser and wannabe filmmaker. Its male star made a deal to shoot at a Florida motel’s swimming pool for free as long as the manager could watch and have his Jockey shorts autographed by the project’s female stars. Its international success was so great that even Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis attended, which the world discovered when she was photographed leaving the theater. An infamous obscenity trial redefined the interpretation of our country’s First Amendment rights forever.

Act 1 of Bertolino’s retelling is done in the groundbreaking Tom O’Horgan–La MaMa theatrical style of the era. It is noisy, brassy, bold, and often performed naked, which considering the material seems to be a given. Director Jerry Douglas’ staging is clever and lively, especially notable in its ability to re-create the film’s scenes in a fine blend of modesty and titillation. Marc Ginsburg appears as porn star Harry Reems, who also narrates the proceedings. Ginsburg easily conveys Reems’ likability and explains how an actor dreaming of success in Shakespeare (“I kept reading Backstage and went to every audition,” he tells us) wound up with his member disappearing into the depths of perhaps the most famous mouth in cinema history.

In Act 2, however, as the much maligned and often-prosecuted Reems descends into the bottle and disillusionment with life, Ginsburg is as hampered by Bertolino’s script and Douglas’ direction as he is abetted by them before the intermission. “These days,” his character says, “I’m thinking less like an actor and more like a human being.” This, ironically, could be a comment signaling the play’s downfall. The fun and raucous spirit of the first half, which craftily entertains as it informs, gives way to a long, redundant, and agonizingly paced account of the 1976 Memphis obscenity trial of Reems and the film’s producers.

This only reveals that Douglas’ talent is for staging, not for eliciting credible performances from the production’s game but mostly in-over-their-heads actors. We get it already; we don’t need to be repeatedly hammered over the cranium by what is, granted, the play’s important underlying message.

If “The Deep Throat Sex Scandal” could be reworked into a 90-minute intermissionless piece, with the trial becoming a 15-minute finale staged with the same humor and outrageous originality that energizes the story of the film’s making, Bertolino and Douglas might have something.

Presented by When Harry Met Linda California, LLC at the Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave., L.A. Jan. 31–March 24. (800) 838-3006, www.brownpapertickets.com, or www.deepthroattheplay.com. Casting by Michael Donovan.

Critic’s Score: C

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