Pretty Filthy (Abrons Arts Center – NYC)

My recent NYC theatre trip came to an end Sunday night with the closing performance of the off-Broadway musical, Pretty Filthy. This was the seventh show for me in four days, and it was a brisk ninety minutes with no intermission, was funny, and had a lot of attractive people in the cast. If it never amounts to much in the end, it isn’t the fault of the fearless and talented cast, nor is it that the idea of taking interviews with real porn stars and making them the basis of a show is a bad one.

The genesis of the show is a series of interviews done with porn stars talking about their lives and profession, and it is their actual words and stories that have been arranged into the text of the show. Some scenes are just monologues, others turn into songs that have little or no rhyme, and all have the feeling of poking fun at their subjects.

A lot of the humor comes from how unabashedly honest and candid the material is, and it works fine when it stays on that level. An ode to female ejaculation entitled “Squirting 101” is hilarious as it is performed with gusto by John Behlmann (the chorus is, “Oh my God, oh my God,” as projections of fountains spew water in the background), and it matters little that recent tests have determined that the act is one of peeing rather than an expression of orgasm commiserate with male ejaculation. It’s naughty and it’s funny, even if it only perpetuates a myth that has now been disproven. “What If I Like It” is the only song that approaches something hummable and memorable, hinting at deeper feelings within the porn stars that appear to evade them as much the creators of this show and the audience.

There is a snarkiness in the way the material has been edited, arranged, and performed that is at odds when it reaches to show something deeper. After seeing the show, I listened to the “Let Me Ascertain You” podcast that The Civilians (the theatre troupe that created Pretty Filthy) put out which is full of monologues from the same interviews that were used to create this show. The podcast featured richer (and more honest and touching) material than was used in Pretty Filthy, which is a shame. Still, it was a fun way to spend ninety minutes even if afterward it left me knowing little more about the world it was portraying than when I went in.

** / out of ****

One last note: there is a scene where the actors are in a porn parody of Star Trek with one actor clearly playing the Leonard Nimoy role of Spock. When he appeared on stage, the audience sighed audibly, as Leonard Nimoy had just passed away a few days prior. The rest of the scene kind’ve fell apart in a way that it probably didn’t just a few weeks before as the audience wasn’t reacting. I think they were thinking of Mr. Nimoy.

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