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Review: 'The Performers' is sweet despite the porn

The Associated Press, Wednesday, November 14, 2012, 5:04pm (PST)

NEW YORK (AP) — Most of the jokes from the new Broadway comedy "The Performers" cannot appear in a family newspaper. The world of adult films doesn't lend itself to cleanliness.

But here's one of the few that can be quoted from David West Read's script:

"Do you like White Russians?" one porn star asks another at a bar.

"Sure," comes the reply. "I like white Russians, I like black Russians, I like half-Russians..."

The funny thing is that the show has a pure heart and a traditional feel-good message despite the waving of adult toys, simulated sex acts and language that would trigger a seizure in a network censor. Read has somehow found sweetness in porn.

Starring Cheyenne Jackson, Ari Graynor, Daniel Breaker, Jenni Barber with Alicia Silverstone and Henry Winkler, "The Performers" opened Wednesday at the Longacre Theatre. It's the tale of two couples struggling with grass-is-always-greener issues.

Jackson and Graynor play married adult film stars who naturally have monogamy issues. Breaker and Silverstone play a slightly bored couple — he a journalist writing about the porn world and she a school teacher — who have a conventional sex life. When they role play, she plays a school teacher.

At a hotel in Las Vegas on the night of the Adult Film Awards, both couples learn what really matters. Their searching is aided by Winkler, who plays a veteran porn star named Chuck Wood and his extremely enhanced gal pal Sundown LeMay, portrayed by Barber.

Director Evan Cabnet has aimed at, and struck, the tender heart in a script that could easily be performed with more darkness or more cartoony. The great cast — especially a squeaky, muddle-headed Graynor and zesty Winkler — keeps the show giggling.

Comic timing is in rich supply here but also compassion. Breaker's eyes bulge like Marty Feldman when he gets bewildered and Barber shows the lost girl inside her airhead doll. Though Silverstone sometimes gets lines muddled, she still nails her character's worry and need.

Jackson plays his alpha porn star Mandrew — who with his ponytail and bravado resembles Tom Cruise in "Magnolia" — as trying-too-hard to appear smart but with a well of kindness beneath the facade. He impressively does that wearing very little, without any self-consciousness. He's the closest anyone onstage gets to naked, if you were wondering.

Anna Louizos' sets are ingenious. The action switches between two hotel rooms and the lobby bar and Louizos makes small details like the paintings and pillows on the bed switch to indicate the two suites. You'd expect not too much thought in terms of costumes for a play about porn, but Jessica Wegener Shay's over-the-top lame dress for Graynor and a '70s white suit for Winkler hit the spot.

Stripped bare — sorry, puns are hard to avoid here — "The Performers" reveals a simple and not-so-provocative message. Winkler's experienced character makes it clear: "If love is involved, there's always a compromise." The fact that it is spoken by an expletive-spewing porn star just adds a little spice to it.

___

Online:

http://www.theperformersonbroadway.com

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