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Off Broadway Review: Porn Docu-Musical ‘Pretty Filthy’

With:
John Behlmann, Lulu Fall, Alyse Alan Louis, Luba Mason, Maria-Christina Oliveras, Steve Rosen, Marrick Smith, Zared Zirilli.

For a reality-based show about the L.A. porn industry, “Pretty Filthy” is some seriously good, clean fun.  Working on commission from L.A.’s Center Theater Group, the Civilians created this deliciously funny and surprisingly sensitive musical by applying its immersive “investigative theater” technique of exhaustive field research and in-depth interviews to the adult entertainment field.  Bess Wohl’s book distilled all that research into a lively narrative, and Michael Friedman supplied the upbeat music and clever lyrics for the top-notch ensemble playing the performers, promoters and agents who love their work but find themselves in an endangered profession.

Under Steve Cosson’s even-handed direction, “Pretty Filthy” manages to be both entertaining and enlightening about the industry — about the importance of a name, for instance.  According to the prevailing wisdom, “You have to make an impression / Something special and unique / So they won’t forget.” We’re all stuck with the names we’re born with, but a name like Sunny or Misty or Stormy gives you an actual identity.

Becky, the wholesome teenager played by the wholesome Alyse Alan Louis, chooses the name Taylor St. Ives — “like, you know, the, um, Apricot Face Scrub?”  Which gets a big laugh, but actually says a lot about the squeaky-clean self-image she retains throughout the show.

From a savvy talent agent like Shy Love (played with terrific aplomb by Maria-Christina Oliveras), we discover that there’s a science to managing the long-term career of a successful porn star. Here’s how she explains her game plan to a petite brunette who wants to go blonde and get a boob job. “So, I said, you’re brunette / small boobs, then you’re blonde / small boobs, then we go blonde / big boobs. And then when you’re done with blonde and brunette big boobs, then you add anal.”

We’re having fun here, but nobody’s actually making fun of anyone — which is precisely what makes this show so enjoyable and its characters so endearing.

Take Georgina. “She’s a legend,” according to one admiring co-worker, and so she is in Luba Mason’s dynamite performance.  Once upon a time, Georgina says, “We were the first video stars / The first girl-next-door girls.”  (“And God, I was beautiful!”) Nowadays, she plays the cougar and vents her scorn for “This robotic and greedy / Viagra-inspired / Accountant-created and / Media-generated world we made together.”

Some of these performers, the guys, especially, seem to be operating on pure instinct. Like Fredo, the lovable stud played with a lot of heart by John Behlmann, who’s having the time of his life and just wants to remind us that “It’s supposed to be fun!”  The production values on Fredo’s big number, “Squirting 101,” are truly impressive, especially the screamingly funny video montage created by projection designer Darrel Maloney.

But sharp operators like Sam Spiegel the agent (the inimitable Steve Rosen) and Carrie the femme director (Oliveras) have shrewd things to say about the industry as a business; specifically, as a business that has been de-valued by Internet porn.  And by the end of the show, even the least introspective members of the profession have wised up to the fickle ways of the entertainment industry.

As one male porn star puts it, looking back wistfully on his fading career:  “I’d like to think that if I can give you something that you can get off on, that I’ve done a service to you.”   But it’s a whole new world out there — and bravo to The Civilians for catching the last breath of a dying industry.

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Off Broadway Review: Porn Docu-Musical 'Pretty Filthy'

Abrons Arts Center; 199 seats; $55 top. Opened Feb. 8, 2015. Reviewed Feb. 5. Running time: ONE HOUR, 30 MIN.

Production: An Abrons Art Center presentation of the Civilians production, originally commissioned by the Center Theater Group, Los Angeles, of a musical in one act, conceived by Steve Cosson, Michael Friedman, and Bess Wohl,  with a book by Bess Wohl and a score by Michael Friedman.

Creative: Directed by Steve Cosson. Sets, Neil Patel; costumes, Emily Rebholz; lighting, Justin Townsend; sound, Ken Travis; projections, Darrel Maloney; wigs, hair & makeup, J. Jared Janas; music director, Nathan Dame; choreographer, Sam Pinkleton; production stage manager, Terri K. Kohler.

Cast: John Behlmann, Lulu Fall, Alyse Alan Louis, Luba Mason, Maria-Christina Oliveras, Steve Rosen, Marrick Smith, Zared Zirilli.

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