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July 25, 2006

Theater Review - Great American Sex Play

Actors in the “Great American Sex Play”: include (top row) Delilah Smyth, Jacob Newton, (bottom row) Eric Welch, Eli Keel, Erica McClure and (upside down) Leah Roberts. Photo by Brian WalkerIn “Great American Sex Play,” the third opus by local playwright Brian Walker, Finnigan Productions aims to grab rather than nudge its audience. And the group exceeds its goal with an engagingly naughty piece of theater that careens from humorously puerile to harshly raw and back again.“Great American Sex Play” is not for the narrow-minded. The stage is almost as bare as the actors, and the language is filthier than that heard on “The Howard Stern Show.” Director Gil Reyes cautions in the playbill, “You are about to come face to face with graphic sex acts, extremely sexual situations, and words you haven’t heard out loud since the last college kegger you attended.”He’s not kidding.In an unspecified future, a group of Canadian scientists are conducting a study of six self-described sexual deviants. The subjects are two heterosexuals, two bisexuals and two homosexuals — one of each gender — who volunteer to be scrutinized in exchange for the “credits” that have replaced currency. (The women learn the men have received twice as many, but The Voice urges them to embrace this polarity, as it is no different from the outside world.) The sadistic scientists delight in deducting credits for any transgression, such as speaking out of turn.As the lights dim, The Voice (assistant director Amelia Pantalos) asks Jack (Jacob Newton) what he thinks when he hears the word “sex.” Jack wistfully recalls the sound of his belt buckle scraping the sidewalk after finishing fellatio on a fellow Boy Scout. Like at a 12-step meeting, several off-stage voices then cheerfully pipe up, “Welcome, Jack!”Bobette’s (Leah Roberts) introduction is similarly shocking. She is a twisted woman who thinks of penises — “big ones!” Because of stretching exercises, her anatomy has changed so she can only reach orgasm with a well-endowed male.Robert McFarland is intimidating as Code1000, the greasy-haired head scientist who takes copious notes while exposing that the study’s purpose is to make them all bisexual. He postulates that as with ancient Greece, a society is at its zenith when it embraces bisexuality, which is natural in the animal kingdom. We never learn why Canadians want to improve American culture, but “assimilation” seems important to this Canadian Institute for a Bisexual Nation.After each scene, The Voice purrs, “Hmm. Hmmm. Hmmm,” in a sexually suggestive tone. Sound designer Dewey Caddell tickles the audience with these offstage utterances.The experiment lasts much longer than the volunteers anticipated. They learn they can’t leave until they’ve all become truly bisexual, to the dismay of the four non-bisexual subjects. Jason (Eric Welch) is grossed out when he is forced to kiss Jack for three seconds to earn extra credits. Slowly, however, he finds himself attracted to the two men during games designed to help them get to know each other. Welch is keen as this fast-talking “dude,” who made a fortune secretly taping his sex partners and selling clips online, but did jail time after one of the girls turned out to be a minor.Also disgusted is Natasha (Delilah Smyth), an assertive lesbian for whom love is elusive. Smyth, known foremost as a first soloist with the Louisville Ballet, boldly embraces the role of diehard dyke in her second foray into acting. Janice (Erica McClure), a stereotypical incest survivor who killed her perpetrator, nearly succumbs to Natasha’s advances.Given the production’s in-your-face attitude about sexual activity, I was a tad disappointed that the oral sex scene between Jason and sex-addict Maxamillion (Eli Keel) is played safe to the point of being ludicrous. (Jason’s head is under Maxamillion’s shirt, somewhere near his navel.) While most scenes are paced with brisk wackiness, others seem out of place, as when the subjects take turns sermonizing about their “totem animal,” expounding on its sexual virtues.The play’s climax is preceded by the only sexual climax not foiled by coitus interruptus, as Bobette and Maxamillion (who have fallen in love) mate like bonobos in front of their cohorts. Curiously, it is the two bisexuals (wealthy Maxamillion and sex abuse survivor Janice) who rebel against the mind control and encourage the others to hold on to their sexual identities.Overall, the production is a fascinating study of sexual polarity that forces the audience to confront the reasons some folks pigeonhole and fear those who do not share their own sexual orientation, thus preventing them from caring about two-thirds of their fellow humans. Director Reyes scores another hit as he continues to challenge local audiences to examine themselves through theater.leo@leoweekly.com