By Gareth Smith and Michael Nathanson
Directed by Morgan Baker
Bon Bock Productions/Horse Trade Theater Group/FringeNYC
The Kraine Theater
Non-union production (closed)
Review by Miranda Lundskaer-Nielsen
A title like this suggests two things -- an unapologetically sexual entertainment or a satire of shows like Puppetry of the Penis or Naked Boys Singing, both of which are referred to in the play. What playwrights Gareth Smith and Michael Nathanson actually do is to take a third path, inviting the audience to laugh at the exploitative characters while still enjoying their sexist jokes. Less honest than the other two, this approach ultimately sends rather mixed messages about what the show is trying to achieve.
Naked Girls Drinking is a two-part structure. Act 1 introduces four Sears salesmen: the louche, macho Ray (Robert J. D’Amato), the disgruntled, put-upon Matt (Marshall Correro), the quieter Tony (Smitty), and the central character, Jack (Alex Fry), who regales the guys with a self-promoting story about a clingy ex (Robin Dawn Arocha).
Jack asks his colleagues to finance his play, Naked Girls Drinking, and the colleagues jump on board without reading the script, promising money but insisting on attending the auditions. Act Two depicts the audition, which runs on two jokes: the backers’ sledgehammer approach to art and their unsophisticated, un-PC approach to casting, both contrasted with Jack’s new-found sensibilities as an artist and as the representative of more progressive sexual politics. (Something of an improbable leap from the swaggering figure at the start of the play.) When a drug dealer shows up, things spiral downhill fast.
This set (Michael Smith) was simple but adequate, using chairs, tables, and lighting (Bree Wellwood) to create a split focus in both acts -- the bar and restaurant rooms in act one, the audition room and waiting area in the second. The show got off to a flying start, with Morgan Baker’s sharp, pacy direction evoking the salesman machismo of Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross (which also gets a mention). The split-focus set allowed for interlocking scenes between the boys in the backroom and the waitress (Jeanine Bartel) and bartenders (Arocha and director Morgan Baker) in the bar area, giving a sense of pace and shifting dynamics to the exposition and set-up. By Act 2, however, the pace slowed and the scenes began to get repetitive: there is only so much comic mileage in watching the neanderthal Ray bludgeoning his way through the audition etiquette or cheerfully abusing his position of power over the actresses. More seriously, the sense of the writers’ viewpoint started to get lost. For while the audience was clearly meant to disagree with the men, the men were given all the best lines, they controlled the best dramatic moments, and they drove the action of the play. (Though Bartel and Sarah Sims turned in strong performances respectively as Jack’s assured waitress-actress friend and as an uppity actress who gets outrageously flirtatious after taking drugs.) The blurriness of purpose also translated to characters like Ray, who flipped over into self-parody at times (wringing his hands and calling out "show us your tits"). As Jack, Fry was particularly strong in Act 1, but in Act 2 he fought a losing battle with a script that has him undergo a drastic character change with insufficient reasons. On the other hand, Correro’s Matt and Smitty’s Tony were pitched perfectly, throwing out comic lines without laboring the point.
While it demonstrated some sharp writing, smart twists, and genuinely funny moments, and while it constituted a moderately entertaining evening, Naked Girls Drinking fell between the genre cracks; part farce, part fantasy, part satire, it ultimately ended up an uneasy amalgam of all three. (Costumes, Robin Dawn Arocha; sound design, Christopher Robinson and Michael Nathanson.)
Return to Volume Nine, Number nine Index
Return to Volume Nine Index
Return to Home Page
Copyright 2002 Miranda Lundskaer-Nielsen