Talk about performance pressure! The Performers, the rather brave-for-Broadway new comedy that bowed Nov. 14 at the Longacre, takes place on the eve of the AFAs — the Adult Film Awards, which are bestowed annually on the Best Bestowed.
What we have here, aside from a failure to communicate beyond the physical, is a sentimental love story trapped in the body of a cerebral sex farce. As Mandrew (Cheyenne Jackson), who's up for an assortment of sordid awards, was just telling the Post reporter, a buddy from high school named Lee (Daniel Breaker), he should be billed Love Star, not Porn Star. (Some actors are so serious about their work.)
It turns out that neither is much of an expert in the love department. Smugly monogamous Lee is inching toward the altar with the only girl he ever had sex with, Sara from the same high school (Alicia Silverstone). Mandrew married a woman he met on the set, Peeps (Ari Graynor), who has just become 30 and pregnant and is further stressed by the fact that her cinematic rival, Sundown LeMay (Jenni Barber), has Siliconed herself into the realm of National Geographic.
If all of the above isn't indication enough, you really realize how far away you are from "Happy Days" when Henry Winkler swaggers cocksure into a lounge and utters an opening line that will clear your sinuses. The former Fonz has turned into the grand old man of porno, one Chuck Wood, and he is in a heated dead-heat with Mandrew for dubious "top honors" in their highly specialized fields of endeavor.
For 90 naughty minutes, this sextet (the noun is used advisedly) mixes it up in their interchangeable hotel suites during awards weekend in Las Vegas, conversing mostly in non sequiturs, innuendos and raunchy one-liners. If you quoted the lines that get the big laughs of the evening, the dialogue would turn to dust on the page.
"The lines don't survive well out of context," the author, David West Read, allowed later at the espace after-party. "I just always remembered where the characters are coming from, and I tried to make most of the jokes come from character. The comedy here is fish-out-of-water comedy and more classic in a sense. People think, coming in, it's going to be shock humor, but to me it's about people from different parts of the world who just don't know much about each other and each other's lives — showing not their ignorance but their ignorance of each other."
Coming from one so young (he made it to Broadway whole months before his 30th birthday), it's surprising to find such seedy, been-round-the-block types roaming Read's head. "Most of the characters have been in my head from the very beginning. I actually cut a major character at one point. Mandrew's mother had a big part. She had a fling with Chuck Wood, but, by getting rid of her in the play, I thought it allowed me to refocus the attention and turn Chuck into more of a fairy godfather who looks over all the characters in the play instead of just being one of them."
Had she made the cut, Read would have wanted Mandrew's mother to be played by Meryl Streep, which is commendably Big Thinking. Normally, he doesn't start out writing roles for actors. "I never dreamed we would get any of these actors, but, once we started working with them in workshops and readings, I wrote directly towards them as best as I could, and I tried to deepen and juice up the parts so that these amazing actors would have something to really sink their teeth into."
His next play — number three — is finished. "Well, it still needs work," Read sheepishly added. "It's called The Great Pretender, and it's about children's television. It's very different from all this. I'm trying to bounce around a little bit, I guess."
Read bounced into public view last year from the bowels of the Laura Pels Theatre at Roundabout Underground's Black Box. His play, The Dream of the Burning Boy, was a somber and sturdy exploration of how a teenager's sudden death impacted on his friends and family — one of many thoughtful dramas to come out of this secret subterranean vault. The series is booked by Robyn Goodman, who stepped up to the plate and became the lead producer bringing Read to Broadway.
"She knew this was something different for me," Read reasoned. "She was excited I was trying something totally different and wanted to go on that journey with me."
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