Friday, June 03, 2011

THEATER: Standards of Decency 3: 300 Vaginas Before Breakfast

I'll bet you three hundred people click the link to this review before breakfast, whether they're looking for vaginas, breakfast, or both, the final choice being the pornographic Meal of Champions for John Mayer, whose words were the inspiration for this, the third year of Blue Coyote Theater Group's exploration of modern sex: Standards of Decency. Part of the cleverness of the title, beyond its Google-ratings (note, that's G-rated, not rated G), is that it speaks to the unspeakability of certain acts that, in the Internet age, are now ever more possible and (possibly) ever less satisfying.

The woman (Rachel Craw) of Jordan Seavey's futurist-titled "any one: seven or so touches in ten or so minutes" comes into contact with strangers all day -- be it her surprisingly straight hairstylist (David Sedgwick) or touchy female yoga instructor (Katie Hayes) -- but ends by blogging in her underwear, alone, about her desire to just be touched. In Adam Szymkowicz's "300," which directly riffs on Mayer's line, Minnie (Stephanie Willing) attempts to get her boyfriend Hal (Charlie Wilson) to talk about his sexual history by throwing a PowerPoint presentation of desensitizing vaginas at him, then tries to stay cool as he reveals an increasingly exotic past, from consensual bestiality to male-on-male group sex at the whims of his temporary slave-master or roadie-work for an all female ska band.

We can so easily get information -- and videos -- that it's literally changing the way we think about sex, or so a teacher (David Lapkin) learns when he finds himself defending a student that has written a book report based, erroneously, on the porn version of Wuthering Heights. (He gloms onto this after noting that one character is now named "Heathclit.") To the child's mother (Katherine Puma), whom he once awkwardly dated, he now finds himself trying to justify porn: "Sometmies you don't want 'challenging,' you don't want difficult or messy. You want a simple-non-reality that you can end or begin at whim." The name of this piece, naturally, is "Romance," and it's strongly written by one of the two female playwrights in the group, Jacqueline Christy. In a nifty and hilarious gender-reversed piece, Matthew Freeman presents "The Metaphor," in which a self-abusing masturbator, Rob (Matthew Trumbull), is the one trying to convince his female priest, Lori (a very comic Amanda Jones), that what he's doing is wrong. ("Jesus is a metaphor," she retorts, welcoming him to the 21st century; "God doesn't care about websites.")

Some pieces are less thoughtful than others: in "Camera Four," Cheri Magid takes the honorable role of the "serious" playwright in the group, and writes of a security guard, Osborn (Christopher Nunez), who catches one of his tenants, Ms. Langan (Lauren Balmer) engaging in some unhygienic outdoor activities. Sadly, the piece is filled with awkward pauses and a go-nowhere plot that only serve to emphasize the awkwardness of the moment. (Laughs were sorely needed.) The opposite goes for David Johnston's confusing "A Lesson," which favors ambiguity rather than explicitness, and features an out-of-control "vocal coach" (Jim Ireland). Stuck in the middle is David Foley's "Plato's Retreat," which creatively re-imagines Plato's famous cave as a basement with non-stop streaming porn flickering on the walls, but too tamely follows through, with a dry (and un-sexy) battle between truth-loving Sophia (Lauren Balmer) and artifice-obsessed Libida (Katie Hayes).

The strength of the evening, though, is in its openness to experiment. The two book-ending plays, "Bits" and "Date Night at Skintastic Dot Com" are polar opposites, but both get equal treatment. The first, by Bruce Goldstone, is an absurd, almost Beckettsian, number in which a computer's binary bits, bytes, and pixels hyperactively comment on their user's web browsing preferences. In under ten minutes, the four cells (Balmer, Willing, Wilson, and Alex Neher) go from enthusiastically crying "tit!" to questioning the gender politics behind Guatama Siddha's assignment of a circle to the concept of "zero." Meanwhile, Mac Rogers' "Date Night" is the most earnest and hopeful play of the evening, as Sam (Jeremy Plyburn) and Connie (Rebecca Comtois) vow to set aside their celebrity nip-slip e-business for one night, realizing that if they don't make time for their own relationship now -- if they live too much in the virtual fantasies -- they'll lose one another. Their plan? To have more-than-competent sex.  

300 Vaginas Before Breakfast doesn't always succeed at the more-than-competent part -- in fact, it's often sloppy, particularly when Gary Shrader directs (Kyle Ancowitz and Robert Buckwalter are notably smoother). But the Blue Coyote Theater Group finds enough truth to justify the more artificially stimulating entertainments; we can excuse the occasional moments of buffering.

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