'The Performers' Is an Embarrassment for All Concerned

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Photo Source: Carol Rosegg

Back in the 1960s, America’s sexual revolution and cultural turmoil spawned a subgenre of hopelessly square Broadway comedies that treated issues of sex and drugs with sniggering sitcom falsity. Some, such as “The Impossible Years,” were hits, but for the most part they flopped quickly (“Norman, Is That You?”) or even closed without opening (“The Freaking Out of Stephanie Blake”). It’s been a long time since Broadway has seen their like, so perhaps that’s why a veritable gaggle of producers, led by such marquee names as Robyn Goodman and Kevin McCollum, decided that there was a vacuum to be filled. I can come up with no other excuse for the presence of David West Read’s purported comedy about the adult-film industry, “The Performers,” at the Longacre Theatre.

Read’s thinner-than-Twiggy script, more gag-inducing than gag-filled, is set in the present at a Las Vegas hotel, where the Adult Film Awards are to be handed out. His dramatis personae consist of two contrasting couples—Mandrew and Peeps, married porn stars, and Lee and Sara, an engaged pair of sexual innocents—along with Chuck Wood, a 50ish former porn idol making a comeback, and Sundown LeMay, co-star to Mandrew and best friend of Peeps. Lee, Sara, and Mandrew are friends from high school, which seems to be why journalist Lee is interviewing Mandrew for the New York Post. Peeps is mad at Sundown for getting her breasts enlarged without telling her, then goes into overdrive when she discovers that Sundown and Mandrew shared a kiss, when a rule of her marriage is no kissing other people. Mandrew desperately wants to win best actor, but so does the aggressively crude Chuck. In this atmosphere of sexual frankness and license, Lee and Sara start to wonder if they should be more adventurous before signing on for the monogamous life, while Peeps and Mandrew, having discovered that she is pregnant, start to think about growing up.

Read makes his porn performers insultingly stupid—Mandrew doesn’t know the difference between the Post and the New York Times and thinks that he will be the centerfold; Peeps tells her husband “I’m pregnant…with a baby”—and his “normal” couple contemptuously bland. He’s also prone to unbelievable behavior: Peeps and Sara decide to trade dresses and go into the bathroom to do it rather than stay in the larger hotel room, because the playwright wants them offstage.

Evan Cabnet does little but direct traffic as Jenni Barber (Sundown), Daniel Breaker (Lee), Ari Graynor (Peeps), Cheyenne Jackson (Mandrew), Alicia Silverstone (Sara), and Henry Winkler (Chuck) soldier manically on. The only thing they can be blamed for is signing on in the first place.

Read wraps things up with an ultra-sentimental paean to monogamy as the ideal human state that’s ridiculously insincere after all the adolescent exploitation of the play’s milieu. Or perhaps it’s just the ultimate in cynicism.

Presented by Robyn Goodman, Amanda Lipitz, Scott M. Delman, Cynthia Stroum, Playing Pretend Productions, Kevin Kinsella, Bruce Bendell/Scott Prisand, Morris Berchard, Richard Vague, Karen Segal, Russell J. Notides, Burnt Umber/Rebecca Gold, Debbie Buslik/Jamie Bendell, and Kevin McCollum at the Longacre Theatre, 230 W. 48th St., NYC. Opened Nov. 14 for an open run. (212) 239-6200, (800) 432-7250, or www.telecharge.com. Casting by Cindy Tolan.

Critic’s Score: F