The Play About the Naked Guy: Ars Gratia Penis
The conflict between Art and Commerce is a difficult one to resolve. One wants to produce work that is meaningful, but also work that will sell tickets. This is the dilemma in which the off-off-Broadway Integrity Theatre Company finds itself at the beginning of David Bell's laugh-a-minute farce The Play About the Naked Guy. Their critically lauded Dickensian verse drama The Ha'penny of Brixton Street has not brought in any crowds- their final performance only had 10 people, 4 of which were comps.
Company founders Dan (Jason Schuchman) and Amanda (Stacy Mayer), a married couple, and their good friend and co-actor Harold (Wayne Henry) are in dire straits when their sole investor, Amanda's mother (Ellen Reilly), upon discovering that Amanda is pregnant, pulls out the money for the next production, and insists that her baby come home to Connecticut.
Meanwhile, across town at a Gay bar, Eddie Russini (Christopher Borg), creator of such mega-hits as Naked Boys Running Around Naked and Drunk Frat Boys Making Porn, is in need of a theater for his new money-making weenie-shaking epic. He and his flamboyant yes men T. Scott and Edonis (Christopher Sloan and Chad Austin) run into the above-mentioned Harold, who is newly out of the closet, and, gleaning from his poverty that he's an actor, bring him along for a night of debauchery with gorgeous pornstar Kit Swagger (Dan Amboyer), who was stripping at the bar.
The next day, at the company meeting of ITC, the two factions meet, and Profit clashes with Aesthetics. Russini, with the Mom's financial backing, creates a Biblical Epic starring Kit Swagger as Jesus (after being inspired by the homoeroticism of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ).
David Bell's script is hilarious- he knows his way around a
zingy one-liner- and is liberally sprinkled with references to theatre
("[Pornstars!] They're all the same! The control issues! The pretension! It's
like working with Patti LuPone!", "No one goes to Cymbeline because they want to. It was either a part of their
subscription or everything else was shut down.") and Gay culture ("If you need
anything: reliable dealer, Badpuppy password, Zithromax- do not hesitate to
ask!", "A wise man builds his house not in Cherry Grove but in the Pines!!"). The witty gags just keep on coming. The play, in its original incarnation (produced by EAT in 2004), was called The Gay Naked Play- this new title is much more commercial, but also more true to the spirit of the play's message.
The cast is completely up to the hilarious standard set by the
script- each of them hits the punchlines like pros.
Christopher Borg is a loveable demon as Russini- he's horrifying, but dominates the stage as a man with a clear and ineluctable vision, a David Belasco of semi-porn.
Ellen Reilly as Mrs. Anderson is his comic match, as Queens
Collide- a casual gorgon, she's every high-class witty rich bitch rolled into
one- the bastard love-child of Karen from Will
and Grace and Joanne from Company. Her droll style is a delight throughout.
Wayne Henry is a hoot with his "Master Thespian" tones, and is effective showing his discomfort as a "New Gay", then finally blossoming into a big ol' fag.
Christopher Sloan and Chad Austin are hilarious, hitting every giddy moment like Sean Hayes gone through a cloning machine.
Jason Schuchman and Stacy Mayer play sweet and naïve exceptionally well. Schuchman is a stick-in-the-mud who won't budge on his artistic principles, while Mayer plays the seduction into the fabulous world of her new fun Gay friends well.
Dan Amboyer, as Kit, is hilarious. He plays a callow money-obsessed star well, but his later scenes, as Harold tutors him in thespian technique, are genius. Plus, of course, he's a gorgeous golden god who spends a lot of time with his shirt off (the adorable Mr. Henry also has a shirtless scene, for those, like me, who prefer their men less chiseled and more hirsute).
Director Tom Wojtunik stages everything flawlessly- every moment is specific and detailed.
The costumes by David Withrow were magnificent- I thought I
detected one or two pieces recycled from his genius costumes for Edward
Set design by Michael P. Kramer was great, but far exceeding what an off-off-Broadway company could do- which brings me to this point:
There was a bit of cognitive dissonance in that the script was edited to reflect the actual theater in which the show is playing- the Baruch Performing Arts Center- which is actually an off-Broadway house, not an off-off. God, I WISH off-off-Broadway houses were that large and had those facilities. It made the struggling actor thing a little less believable.