The moral of “Adult Entertainment,” Elaine May’s shambles of a new play, is this: Never expose your bird-brained porn stars to literature. Why? Because they’ll soon start talking about metaphors and motivation while worrying about Emily in “Our Town,” and you’ll never again be able to churn out 75 porn pics a year. This isn’t an unamusing idea for, say, a revue sketch. But May has based an endlessly gabby two-act play on it that’s not so much written as thrown together (it actually makes May’s late, unlamented “Taller Than a Dwarf” look good in retrospect). To make matters worse, it’s ploddingly directed by Stanley Donen. What to do to give the play any chance Off Broadway, where it’s scheduled to begin previews at the Variety Arts on Saturday and open Dec. 2? Cut 45 minutes out of it for starters, particularly those ghastly rehearsal scenes that are meant to show what terrible actors the porn stars are but only make the cast look like terrible actors.
The play revolves around a series of phone-in shows on “pubic access channel 35,” hosted by Heidi-the-Ho (Linda Halaska), in which a quartet of porn stars that includes Vixen Fox (Mary Birdsong), Jimbo J (Eric Elice) and May’s daughter Jeannie Berlin as lesbian Frosty Moons (whose costumes and face-hiding wig make her look like a man in drag) responds to calls. The first show is a wake for a dead porn director, the brother of whom is in attendance. Played by Danny Aiello, he’s had experience in “regional and dinner theaters” and the porn stars want him to direct an “artistic” porn pic they’ll make themselves.
A screen at front center stage is used to mask scene changes behind it, with supposedly raunchy (but unconvincing) taped song-and-dance numbers from Heidi’s show projected on it.
Aiello’s character, however, turns out not to be much of a screenwriter, so Heidi’s TV cameraman, Gerry (Brandon Demery), a Yalie who spouts intellectual claptrap, is hired as writer. Before long he’s introduced a line from Marlowe’s “The Jew of Malta” into the script and has everyone reading the classics from Flaubert to Wilder to “Death of a Salesman” and giving them acting assignments in scenes from a Yeats adaptation and “The Beggar’s Opera.”
Not “mental giants,” the porn actors get terribly upset by the plight of everyone in such classics and are soon all but useless as sex performers. For instance: Gay Jimbo J, who’s proud of winning such awards for best group and best anal, soon loses his boyfriend and almost ends his life on a suicidal acid high.
Gerry eventually walks out on the movie, which was to have been called “Melissa’s Tail,” but is coaxed back again and the play ends with a screening of scenes from it. It turns out to be set in ancient Greek and based mainly on the Icarus myth. After all, those mythic types were real horny, so you can put in a lot of porn. It’s ever so artistic.
But the fleet, light touch that might have made the material halfway playable is never in evidence as script and production plod across the stage, everyone looking embarrassed at what they’re asked to do. It’s all mostly boring.
Visually the production is ugly, including its blue garage-studio setting with revolving walls for quick changes and its attempts at kinky costumes.
There are some mild laughs along the way, with such porn movie titles as “Willy’s Wonka” and “Hanna Bell Licked Her,” for instance. But when May gets sentimental and pseudoserious in act two, all bets are off. One thing about “Adult Entertainment” is abundantly clear: Its many producers have some very serious thinking to do about it.