The Playboy Stories: Forty-Five Years of Fiction in the Flesh

Lightning Strikes Theatre Company
Sanford Meisner Theatre
164 11th Ave. (22nd / 23rd) 713-5334
Equity showcase (closes June 24)
Review by Adrienne Onofri

You mean there really are men who buy Playboy for the articles? This show is for them ... and for their brethren who may have missed these stories the first time around because they were preoccupied with the, er, art.

Even those who object to Playboy will find nothing objectionable in these stage adaptations of short stories that ran in the magazine from the '50s through the '90s. Although sex figures in all the stories, it is not a dominant theme of the evening. The common thread of all five pieces is society (or at least one segment of it) in transition; Lightning Strikes says it selected the works because they capture "the spirit of the times that they were written in or about."

A prime example is the program opener, How It Ended, which zeroes in on author Jay McInerney's favorite targets: the Reagan-era "masters of the universe" whose souls were as empty as their bank accounts were full. The adaptation by Robert Lyons breezily tells the tale of a vacationing divorce lawyer, fresh off a $3 million settlement, whose attempt to bond with-and mentor-a younger attorney backfires. While the playlet seemed affectless (probably a byproduct of the characters' well-rendered insouciance), it did engage the audience's curiosity about where the story was headed. Director Jason Jacobs used minimal scenery but clever lighting and staging to depict the play's three settings-poolside, in a restaurant, and on the beach of a Virgin Islands resort. In looks and comportment, D.L. Shroder was every bit the part of the blowhard with a fragile ego.

T. Coraghessan Boyle's Modern Love, published in 1988, also skewers a pre-eminent social phenomenon of its time: safe sex. The characters' paranoid behavior made for some funny tableaux-scrubbing with a towelette in a Thai restaurant, arousing each other with descriptions of exotic contagious diseases-but now that AIDS hysteria has subsided, the material felt somewhat hackneyed and dated. The leads, Michelle Maryk and Martin Everall, skillfully handled the screwball script's timing and their characters' quirks. (Adapted by Celia Montgomery, directed by Jan E. Murphy)

The biggest surprise of the evening was Roald Dahl's A Fine Son, not only because the author is most identified with children's writing but also because of a killer twist ending. If only Off-Off-Broadway could generate the kind of buzz Hollywood did with The Sixth Sense, this would be the play that would have 'em talking. The climactic secret is revealed through cleverly choreographed interplay of dialogue and voiceover. Period details, from the costumes to the hospital ward setting to one man's sideburns, were nicely realized, too. (Adapted by John Byrd, directed by Keith Oncale.)

It was not until after intermission that these Playboy Stories finally showed some skin-and it belonged to Maryk, playing a character named Pretty who picks up a handsome hitchhiker (Ethan Kent) as she drives from Texas to San Francisco, in Richard Harland Smith's dramatization of Good Blonde by Jack Kerouac. This is vintage Kerouac: the highway, the drugs, the travelers who aren't sure (or don't care) where they're going. A finely crafted soundtrack presented both the noises of the highway-including a very realistic sideswiping-and jazz tunes on the car radio that reflected the passengers' moods.

John McDermott directed both Blonde and the program's finale, A Flourish of Strumpets, adapted by Mike Bencivenga from a story by Richard Matheson. This piece also evokes its era's zeitgeist, presenting in a colorful, surreal fashion that time when the first snippets of '60s permissiveness started to encroach on the Ozzie and Harriet world of the 1950s. Rochelle Stempel had her second turn of the evening as a repressed wife, and her portrayal was just as incisive (but more humorous) here as it was in the McInerney piece. Also getting a laugh were effective sight gags, including a man always in pajamas and call girls with their clients literally on a leash.

The most consistently excellent aspect of The Playboy Stories was the technical work: Jeff Greenberg's lighting, Vanda Edwards-Jones' assortment of costumes, sound by Reed Robins, and sets (which changed frequently but unobtrusively) by Andris Krumkalns.

(Also featuring Stephen Bishop Seely, Robyn Parsons, Lori Funk, Jeff Buckner, Roy Bacon, Scott Andrew Kurchak)
Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2000 Adrienne Onofri