“The Performers,” David West Read’s romantic comedy about a lovers’ showdown at an Adult Film Awards ceremony in Las Vegas, is dopey fun. That’s not because the sensibility is raunchy, but because the sentiments are so corny. There’s not much to cheer in the thin plot about married porn stars who teach a prudish couple a thing or two about true love and great sex; the big pleasure comes from watching true comic artists spin this trite material into gold.
In his first Broadway assignment, helmer Evan Cabnet makes his mark by assembling a first-class ensemble to play the engaging artistes competing for honors at an adult-film awards show.
Mandrew Rod-Dick, the manly porn star played with endearing enthusiasm and great comic commitment by Cheyenne Jackson (who won immortality in “Xanadu”), is confident he’ll take the prize for male performer of the year for his soulful performance in “Planet of the Tits.” He gets all emotional trying to explain the beauty of his work to Lee (a well-cast Daniel Breaker), the wary journalist who’s interviewing him for a newspaper feature. Lee’s schoolteacher fiancee, Sara (Alicia Silverstone, looking sweet and playing funny), is just as sexually repressed as he is, so it’s obvious where that plotline is going.
Mandrew may think he’s got the award locked up, but he’s up against stiff competition in Blade Butler, Little John Big Dong, Antonio Bonederass, Black Attack and especially Chuck Wood (Henry Winkler, having a ball), the revered star who wins every year, but is gracious and humble about it (“I would be nothing without all the people I’ve fucked”).
Read (“The Dream of the Burning Boy”) soon drops the professional competition between Mandrew and Chuck for a domestic problem between Mandrew and Peeps (Ari Graynor), his beloved if profoundly dumb wife and fellow porn star. In Graynor’s flat-out fantastic perf, Peeps is devoted to Mandrew but insanely jealous of Sundown LeMay (Jenni Barber, adorable) and her big breasts. That, too, has predictable consequences.
The scribe is not without wit, but it’s on a line-by-line basis. A film title here (“12 Angry Lesbians”), an inside joke there (dubbing a director named Fingers “the Martin Scorsese of porn”). And while the performances are priceless, they can’t disguise the simplistic themes and unsophisticated plot devices of what is really a very old-fashioned comedy.