Porn of Plenty

At a time when the sleaziest city in the world has been brought to its knees (or rather, up from its knees), Annie Sprinkle shows a lot of chutzpah in hosting her retrospective, Annie Sprinkle's Herstory of Porn: Reel to Real at P.S. 122--i.e., not just within 500 feet of a school building, but inside one. It's well documented, however, that Sprinkle is anything but shy. In a previous show, she opened her vagina with a speculum and encouraged the audience to look inside. This seems tame, however, in comparison to the onscreen exploits that Sprinkle candidly lampoons, à la Mystery Science Theater, in the first half of this rather long exhibition. You don't have home movies like this: Sprinkle sodomizing herself with a toothbrush, giving head to a midget, rimming a pantomime horse, being spanked by a drag queen, indulging vomit fantasies--well, maybe you do, but you're not showing them in public. Her oeuvre is a fascinating testament to the sexual imagination, and a reminder of the creativity of the porn industry in the late '70s, around the time when Sprinkle got her start as a popcorn vendor at a theater showing Deep Throat, whose director, George Damiano, gave her her first role. (It's no wonder many indie filmmakers are obsessed with '70s porn; they must feel an affinity for its sexual candor, dumb raunchy humor, and low budgets.)

Sprinkle's journey, somewhat disappointingly, is also the trajectory of the sexual revolution, the big party so tragically shut down by AIDS. The second half of the show examines Sprinkle's rebirth into the worlds of lesbian erotica and tantric sex, and while Sprinkle labels this half "Real," she becomes apologetic, reinterpreting her past through San Francisco­style politics. What's real, ultimately, is probably somewhere between her extremes.

--James Hannaham

Death and Texas

Back when the Romans invented life insurance (in the form of burial clubs), little did they know they'd also concocted what would become a remarkably popular dramatic tool. Thinking they were providing families with financial security, they'd accidentally given future playwrights and screenwriters a shiny new plot device, a fresh entry in the Motive file.

In Tracy Letts's Killer Joe (Soho Playhouse), it's Mom who owns the $50,000 policy, which dangles off her like a ruby brooch on the subway. After she steals son Chris's cocaine stash to fix her Pinto, leaving him owing $6000 to a murderous drug dealer, Chris figures the cash-out on her life insurance would not only cover the debt, it'd also pay for the hit man.

So begins this Shepard-esque thriller, which is also a comedy of white-trash manners (such as they are). Set in a cramped, dirty trailer on the outskirts of Dallas, the play follows Chris, his father Ansel, stepmother Sharla, and young sister Dottie as they plot poor Mom's demise. Chris contracts Joe Cooper, a Dallas police detective, to do the killing. But when they're unable to pay for the job up front, Joe demands Dottie as his sexual "retainer." The play alternates nicely between humor and menace, before it devolves into a bloody, much too easy finale. The subtler scenes between Dottie and Joe are the production's most arresting, the couple's power relationship more ambiguous than either might have guessed.

Scott Glenn is aptly threatening as Joe, with etched face and eyes that "hurt." Mike Shannon simpers effectively as Chris. But it's Marc A. Nelson as Ansel who offers a more modest celebration of theater. Best described as a "large" man, he gets an odometer's worth of comic mileage by walking around in his underpants. --Brian Parks

Last Laughs

We would all do good if we had the chance. Or would we? Caryl Churchill's The After-Dinner Joke(Monsterless Actors, Inc.) says no, suggesting that it's impossible to do good because the industry of doing good is standing in our way. Written in 1978 as a radio play, the acerbic piece satirizes the way big business twists philanthropy into a money-making machine. When the naive, giggly Selby (Lisa Blankenship) tells her boss she wants to help people, he transfers her into the charity division of his company. Successful at extracting cash from greedy sheikhs and selfish rock stars, she gets promoted--after squashing a doubt or two about her profession's virtue.

The play's title refers to the fact that, when giving money, people want to feel not only virtuous but sexy. In one hilarious scene, the big business boys celebrate a bestselling book whose proceeds go to charity. It contains the after-dinner chatter of witty politicians and celebrities. Selby, however, takes a more dramatic approach to fundraising. One of her ideas is to shock people with a poster that says "Fuck you, greedy pigs."

The Monsterless company, under the co-direction of Victoria Pero and Marcus Geduld, gives the play a kinetic production that neatly expresses the business culture's soulless whirl. The set is filled with cardboard storage boxes and wooden filing cabinets, and the actors rush on and off stage at a furious pace. But such energy cannot completely suppress the anachronisms of the play, which was written during the Thatcher Era. Still, The After-Dinner Joke reminds us of one thing that's mostly absent from theater today: how a sharp, funny attack on the pieties of business can make us mad and move us at the same time. --Rachel Shteir

 
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