BWW Reviews: THE PERFORMERS comes out on top in the end

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Photo credit: Nick Lingnofski

Somehow, it seems fitting that THE PERFORMERS, the David West Read comedy set in the adult film industry, would make its Columbus debut at the Garden Theatre. Before becoming the home base for the Short North Stage, the theatre did a stint as a burlesque theatre between being movie house and a church.

The Short North Stage presents THE PERFORMERS from Feb. 1 to 25 at the Garden Theatre (1187 N. High Street). The stay in Columbus will be almost as long as its Broadway debut. THE PERFORMERS starred Henry Winkler and Alicia Silverstone on Broadway, but its preview run interrupted by Hurricane Sandy. It closed after only seven shows, leading to a bonanza for headline writers everywhere. The Washington Post penned, "PERFORMERS goes limp" while the New York Post titled its review, "XXX PERFORMERS flaccid."

The Garden Theatre's Green Room gives the audience an up close and, at times, uncomfortable look at the exotic, erotic world of porn stars, Mandrew (a bombastic turn by James Sargent), and his wife Peeps (Melissa Jones). But at the conclusion of the play, Read presents the audience with an intriguing premise - the lives and values of the performers aren't that different than ours.

In an interview with his friend Lee, a reporter for the New York Post, Mandrew tries to distance himself from the other members of the profession. He declares "a porn star is someone who excites you sexually but not emotionally. Ipso facto, I am not a porn star. I am a love star. I make love."

Lee (Greg Mallios) then asks Mandrew, "Does anyone call you a love star?" Mandrew snorts, "Nobody ever calls me that, obviously. My name is Mandrew."

Lee and his fiancée Sara Myers (Dionysia Williams) play the straight lace couple to the outlandish Mandrew and Peeps. While Lee is profiling Mandrew on the eve of the Adult Film Awards show, Sara follows him to Las Vegas and plans on taking in a Barry Manilow concert. Concerned that their love life might be falling into a predictable, boring routine, Sara accepts an invitation to the porn Oscars from Chuck Wood (Victor D'Wayne Little) and Sundown LeMay (Lauren Monteleone), a rival couple of Mandrew and Peeps.

While the dialogue can be vulgar (it's about porn, duh) and the show occasionally wades into a world of double entendres and pratfalls straight out of the THREE'S COMPANY genre, Read's script shows the vulnerability and virtues of all the characters. Director Edward Carignan's cast does an exceptional job presenting the characters' lives onstage. Thanks to the French maid clad actresses Eli Brickey and Lisa Glover, Carignan even found a way to make the scene changes sexy.

One of the more intriguing parts of the second act comes when Peeps learns Mandrew gave a comforting kiss to LeMay when the actress learned her mother had cancer. Peeps is emotionally gutted, not by the fact her husband had sex with LeMay on film (that's a job requirement) but he gave away a kiss, something that was only supposed to be shared between the two of them.

The highpoint of the show is Wood's bombastic acceptance speech after receiving his phallic Oscar trophy at the Adult Film Awards: "When I was a boy, I told my father that I was going to be the first Jew in the Basketball Hall of Fame or a famous rock star. My father looked at me and said, 'Good for you, son, but some people don't give a (crap) about basketball. Some people don't even listen to music. But there's one thing that unites every human being on this planet and it's this: Everybody (has sex). So if you're the best at (screwing) . . . you're the best human being.' I did not understand these words at the time --- I was only six --- but when I made my first adult film in 1978, I thought of my father."

Let's see this year's Oscar winners give that kind of acceptance speech. Who knows? With the way Hollywood is going, it just might work.

THE PERFORMERS will have evening performances at 8 p.m. Feb. 2-3, 8-10, 15-17, and 22-24 and 3 p.m. matinees on Feb. 3-4, 10-11, 18 and 25. Contact 614-725-4042 for more information.

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