Porn stars are easy; comedy is hard. And as any skin-flick actor could tell you, it’s tough to make a scene work right when you’re only half hard. That’s the lesson of David West Read’s smutty, semifunny The Performers, set in Las Vegas on the night of the Adult Film Awards. Cheyenne Jackson plays an up-and-coming porn stud who calls himself Mandrew and is bent on winning the Best Male Performer prize for his work in such prestige projects as Planet of the Tits; Ari Graynor is his wife, Peeps, a sex starlet who is none too pleased to be pregnant. (“I’m not ready to be a MILF!” she moans.) With his sky-blue eyes and legs of thunder, Jackson settles winsomely into the role of the beefy naïf, and Graynor—she of the hat-pin timing and nail-file voice—bangs out a hilarious portrait of vulgarity and lovable insecurity.
The Performers squeezes quite a few dirty laughs from crude, XXX double entendres—and Henry Winkler plays an aging cocksman, which is great news for anyone who wants to hear Henry Winkler talk about his dong a lot. But the raunch turns out to be mere dressing for a soggy rom-com salad that involves a second couple: the dorky Lee (Daniel Breaker), who knew Mandrew in high school, and his fiancée, Sara (Alicia Silverstone). These clichéd everyman characters, intended to ground the action in a more familiar world, are less fleshed out than the pornies; and Silverstone, so appealing in 2010’s Time Stands Still, resorts here to simpering shtick. As Read’s script follows them down the comedy drain to a sentimental thud of an ending, the play’s wood droops from a thick vein of sap.—Adam Feldman
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