The Porno Play

Warning: This review may contain spoilers.

While some kinds of entertainment have the social warrant to bring out the best in people, pornography in Western society is too often cornered into bringing out the worst. This play is an amusing look at the grimiest of popular entertainments and the people who have to work in it.

In a porno peep show establishment, work has its own set of routines, which Rich (Nick Regan) has had nearly enough of. Unfortunately, his job and his co-workers face more than their share of irritations like bothersome customers, weirdos and an overly sentimental boss making the situation worse. Meanwhile, those customers have their own concerns with group support meetings that reveal far more than you expect.

Pornography is an entertainment that historically adapts new technology more easily than any others. In that regard, this story is an intriguing contradiction considering porn has largely moved on to online services that offer privacy and convenience at home. A dedicated viewing establishment with DVDs is a glaring anachronism that can only appeal to people too poor or insecure to have anything more private.

This creates a special kind of workplace comedy where the staff have to deal with people polite society would rather ignore and whose rationality is a tossup. In that spirit, the story runs a fine balance of drama and surreal comedy. For instance, one character’s repeated addresses to the audience are fun interludes of an almost Pythonesque surrealism as the nut faces the fourth wall that no one else recognizes. With that, the support meeting episodes are oddly touching where the customer characters are forced to face some honesty about themselves, except for one who still too busy lying to himself to accomplish anything there. When those personal realities clash, sparks fly that you won’t expect.

In this mixture of personal sleaze and street audacity, the players carve out their characters with a confident air for all. For instance, Nick Regan provides a good balance of experience and cynical endurance as Rich, a veteran of the business who is past his patience with the goings-on, and too numb to help any newcomer. Shannon Beatrice as Marty is a good contrast as the survivor who can still function with her job’s nighttime demands.

The players of the upper management characters prove their own contribution to the dramatic mosaic, such as Kathy Yan Li as Olivia, Rich’s former lover, who has her own contribution to the workplace even though she has shared more than Rich would have wanted. She has just the right mix of night charm and workday professionalism to wonder what Rich sees and knowing what he would miss. In comparison, Mik Patton as Brad is an even more intriguing mix of contradictions. He seems to try to run a tight ship, but his sentimentality towards his customers feels inexplicable, especially how some of them don’t appreciate it. You’ll keep wondering about his real motives and maybe you won’t get all the answers at the end, but you’ll want to find out.

Of the customer characters, Michelle McMurray is a disreputable ball of fun as a transsexual tease who is bizarrely personable in her own way. Anyone who can effortlessly be an obnoxious snarker and still have a sympathetic ear is someone who you can’t dismiss easily. That makes Douglas Stewart’s role as Scotty, a repellent crackhead, all the more memorable with his miserably cynical pushiness taking advantage of the one generosity he gets, especially when you know how he is ruining his own life in the process.

Against that drama, Ryan Baldrock is a delight as Glen, a crazy clown who figures himself the star of his own surreal farce, and thus is perfect to give some needed lightness in the unbearableness of the others’ beings. In the face of that, Keith Alward’s own character has a bizarrely compelling nature, even if you want to toss him out for his pointless rambling, which has its own strange point of a man who nothing better to do.

The stagecraft has a special dirty economy to it with the main setting feeling deceptively elaborate with the counter and display shelves working neatly with the shrouded section to suggest the main business area. Even with that setup, there is enough room for the various other business in other settings without much setup required without taking away from the needed atmosphere. With a little suggestion from the players, a whole underworld is created with an atmosphere that will keep you off guard all throughout.

Watching this play is to see a world you wouldn’t want to admit knowing too closely, but it is still a rewarding story to explore.