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A CurtainUp Review
The Perfomers

"What became of class? "— Velma and Matron in Chicago
Daniel Breaker & Cheyenne Jackson
(Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)
Why am I quoting a lyric from the long running hit Chicago? Isn't the show being reviewed The Performers? Yes, I AM reviewing s The Performers. But you see a funny thing happened to me while I was watching it that lament by Velma and Matron kept popping into my head. Unlike Chicago which has plenty of class, this new show is neither classy or funny.

To be fair, there were plenty of people all around me at the Longacre Theatre who did laugh quite a bit. But David West Read's writing here, as in his fledgling play, The Dream of the Burning Boy, is simply not as good as the acting. But while the actors made Burning Boy. . . which debuted as part of the Roundabout Company's worthy Underground series worth seeing, The Performers is an insurmountable (no pun intended) challenge. Blessed as it is once again with a first-class cast, this insipid story with its desperate attempt to titillate ticket buyers with a porn film background simply isn't the edgy, Broadway worthy comedy it aims to be — unless you paraphrase H. L. Mencken's famous quote to "you can't go wrong underestimating the taste of Broadway theater goers."

It seems to me that those with a taste for porn would be better served going to the Internet to get their fix of seeing amply endowed men and women who make their living coupling in front of the camera. While I don't pretend to be an expert on the adult film business, I'm reasonably sure that no one in that industry talks like this, But wait. . . this isn't supposed to be an enlightening inside look at the x-rated movie world but a relationship story with the porn angle intended to provide an extra bit of risque fun.

The relationship plot isn't exactly a world beater either. It's a nice enough story and, given the background, rather sweet and ordinary — but oh so predictable. Film and theater audiences more seasoned than the 29-year-old playwright have seen enough similar situations and characters to anticipate the cliched complications without a smidgen of surprise. Too bad the dialogue is also more ordinary than extraordinary.

As you can see from the picture I've posted, you DO get to see the muscular Cheyenne Jackson stripped down to a loin cloth. That's as close as this porn show comes to nudity. Jackson's rippling abs are indeed impressive. However that pony tail hairdo and the loincloth outfit (courtesy Charles LaPointe and Jessica Wegener Shay) make him look as if he were auditioning for a part as an Indian about to capture a pretty white pioneer woman as his squaw in one of those old B-movies popular in the days of double features and censorship of what's now par for the course language. Jackson does what he can with his role as Mandrew, a handsome young, not too bright man proud of his acting. He's happily married to an equally ridiculously named porn diva Peeps. As played by Ari Graynor, Peeps comes closest to making The Performers rise above its pedestrian script and jokes.

As a counterpoint to Mandrew's and Peeps' unconventional marital fidelity setup (sexual congress is part of the job, but a kiss is not just a kiss but adultery), Lee (Daniel Breaker), Mandrew's more conventional high school friend turned reporter, has come to Las Vegas to interview Mandrew. The occasion is this year's adult movie industry equivalent of the Oscars, at which Mandrew is a best actor contender.

Lee is accompanied by Sara (Alicia Silverstone), his fiancee, a high school teacher. Naturally getting mixed up with these adulterous film stars leads to relationship mishaps and lessons. Those lessons once learned. insure a happy ending for all but Chuck Wood, the award winner but loser in life and love. This old-timer adds yet another bit of casting star power since he's played by Henry Winkler. His Chuck Wood is unlikely to have as long a Broadway run as the Fonz on the long-running situation comedy Happy Days.

Oh, and since no film about a business where bigger is better when it comes to certain body parts, The Performers also features the requisite huge-breasted character. In this case, that's Sundown Le May (Jenni Barber) who also adds an adultery-by-kiss and female friendship angle.

Anna Louizos's rotating sets — the two couples hotel rooms and a bar — work okay but somehow look like scenes from better hotel room comedies of seasons when class and better scripted silliness still mattered. Evan Cabnet, who directed the playwright's previous play keeps the traffic moving forward but even at just 90 minutes, The Performers limps along at what feels like three hours. Save your money and wait until these talented actors land in a show with more originality and class.

The Perfomers by David West Read'
Directed by Evan Cabnet
Cast: Cheyenne Jackson (Mandrew), Ari Gaynor (Peeps), Daniel Breaker (Lee), Jenni Barber (Sundown LeMay), Henry Winkler (Chuck Wood)
Set design: Anna Louizos
Lighting design: Jeff Croiter
Costume design: by Jessica Wegener Shay
Sound design by Nevin Steinberg
Hair and Wig design: Charles G. LaPointe
Composer: Julian Fleisher
Projections: Richard DiBella Stage Manager: Charles M. Turner III
Running Time: 90 minutes without intermission
Longacre Theatre 220 W. 48 St 212 239 6200
D From 10/23/12; opening 11/14/12.--closing 11/18/12
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at November 8th press preview
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