River Cities Reader
Written by Mike Schulz
Calling the Clinton Area Showboat Theatre’s production of Incredible Sex a hit-and-miss affair is accurate, but that description doesn’t do justice to just how sensational its “hits” are – the show, directed by Patrick Stinson, is more like hit-and-miss-and-hit-and-hit-and-hit. Composed of three one-act comedies by Rich Orloff – two performed in the first act and one in the second – Incredible Sex is so clever, and accommodates the talents of the CAST ensemble so fittingly, that the rare moments where you don’t laugh are almost reprieves, and even then, you’re probably smiling too much to care.
As I all-too-infrequently give props to the Showboat design team, allow me to begin by commending Sean Sweeney and his crew on the set, which manages to suggest ancient Athens, Key West, and Passaic, New Jersey not only convincingly but ingeniously. (No small feat there.) The most shocking element of the production, in fact, has nothing to do with its situations or dialogue (“pussy,” uttered once, is as salty as the language gets), but with the enormous, strongly vaginal artwork on stage, which creates an appropriate counterpoint to the phallic Greek columns, and – if your mind is as dirty as Orloff hopes it’ll be – gets you giggling long before the show begins.
The design serves a thematic purpose as well, as the set reminds us that sex-as-a-punchline has endured for centuries, harking back, at least, to the long-ago past of Sex’s opener, “Oedi.”
This playlet is a comedic take on the Oedipus legend, and in Orloff’s hands, it becomes the ultimate Jewish joke – a young man discovers he’s married to his mother, and when this fact is revealed to her, Mom doesn’t really mind. It’s the sort of thing the young Woody Allen would have had a field day with, and so it makes perfect sense when Benjamin Cole enters the scene and, as “Oedi,” delivers a full-scale Woody Allen impersonation.
But if the performance is a stunt, it’s a marvelously-executed stunt; you get the feeling that Cole has been practicing this routine in the mirror for years. Cole’s inflections and physicality are terrifically assured – his Allen-esque pronunciation of “hostile,” especially, is a gas – and he comes up with satisfyingly demented bits throughout, as when news of his relationship finds Oedipus threatening to vomit on the show’s front-row patrons. (You’ve been warned.)
The Jewish gags and incest gags and audience-goosing shtick – mostly provided by the game Colin Douglass’ Tiresias and the lewdly vivacious Sandee Cunningham’s Jocasta – grow a little tiresome, and a few ideas are better in theory than execution. (The Town Crier bit doesn’t quite play, but that’s no fault of the spirited actor – Jack Maisenbach – who plays him.) Yet “Oedi” – great title! – remains mostly inspired, and although I don’t know whether the concept was Orloff’s or Stinson’s or Cole’s, the Allen doppelganger is a spectacular conceit; the political jabs are dynamite, but with Cole’s hilarious Allen approximation at the play’s center, the media jabs are even sharper. Good luck getting Soon-Yi Previn out of your mind.
One of “Oedi”‘s relative disappointments – especially if you saw his work in CAST’s The Mousetrap or Anything Goes – lies in how little Jeffrey Fauver gets to do; his Creon is a pretty generic straight man. It turns out Fauver was merely conserving his energies. In Incredible Sex’s final piece, entitled “Mars Needs Women, But Not as Much as Arnold Schecter,” the actor plays an uber-nerd who discovers that his girlfriend has been unfaithful with an alien, and I’m not sure I’ve laughed harder at an individual performance all year.
Fauver plays his Passaic spaz with such sweetness and delirious fervor that it’s almost beyond belief; the actor doesn’t just reveal Schetner’s inner and outer geek, he appears to have a direct link to this goober’s soul. (Fauver trails away his sentences like a man embarrassed to be uttering them, and if enough people saw Incredible Sex, the performer’s mortified “Oh, nooo!” reading would deserve to be a national catchphrase.) As in “Oedi,” the cleverness eventually wanes, but the cast is on: Benjamin Cole shows up again (this time doing an amusingly brainless spin on Keanu Reeves), Nicole Horton and Karrie Kinsman exude a lovely lightness of spirit, and as the martians, Paul Luoma and Allison Hendrix bellow and bitch with splendid comic authority.
This duo is also paired opposite one another in “Women in Heat,” which is, chronologically, the second play of the evening, but might be the best-acted and -directed of Incredible Sex’s one-act threesome. Don’t expect much in the way of plot, though. It’s basically a half-hour spent with a trio of friends from Dayton (Hendrix, Maggie Mountsier, and Cassandra Marie Nuss) as they discuss their sex lives – Sex and the City redux, with less story than you’ll find in a typical Sex and the City episode. (Hell, less story than in a typical Sex and the City scene.) But it’s performed with such honesty and hysterical, throwaway wit that it puts you in a state of complete happiness, and it’s impossible to imagine better casting.
As the level-headed, surprisingly adventurous woman who laughingly apologizes for her “inner Ohio,” Hendrix is sensationally touching and funny, and Nuss, with her completely unapologetic candor, is devastatingly dry. It’s Mountsier, though, who creates a type I’ve never seen before: a prissy goody-two-shoes who is so sincere in her niceness – and so matter-of-fact about her racy past – that you don’t even consider disliking her. And the actress’ pauses are beautifully-calibrated; when Paul Luoma’s endearing himbo makes an offhand reference about how sex without love is endorsed in the Bible, Mountsier takes the tiniest of beats before replying, “Have you ever read the Bible?”
“Women in Heat,” like “Oedi” and “Arnold Schecter,” is oftentimes wonderfully funny, but what sets it apart from the other Incredible Sex pieces is its tone of serenely understated contentment, and the work ends with a peerless tableau – just a group of friends sipping coffee, staring at the sunrise, and marveling at the wondrous possibilities of it all. For a moment, the play is about more than laughs, and even about more than sex – without pushing its themes in the slightest, director Stinson and his cast turn Orloff’s witty and unexpectedly insightful piece into a play about life. Incredible.