First there was Making Porn about the gay porn film industry in San Francisco in the early 1980's. Then came 10 Naked Men a sexy morality play about the perils of sex for sale. Now comes Ronnie Larsen's latest comedic look at what goes on behind the neon lights of those emporiums of sleaze known as peep shows. While this bottom-of-the-heap segment of show biz is not limited to New York City, the peep shows that still dot Eighth Avenue despite the gentrification of 42nd Street are the focus of the show that recently opened in the Actors' Playhouse -- home also to Larsen's previous comedy dramas for people not squeamish about X-Rated entertainment.
I can't tell you if his portrait is accurate but I suspect he's got it right. So, if you're not prudish about frontal nudity and explicit and non-conventional sexual behavior, this is your chance to satisfy your curiosity about the kind of girls who work there and the men who come to peep. And don't let the word "peep" fool you. According to Larsen's Peep Show, peeping is a euphemistic umbrella covering a multitude of sex play in which the girls aren't always safely tucked into booths or behind glass walls.
To the playwright's credit, Peep Show is definitely a play and not just a series of skits between working girls more concerned with money than morals and men with libidos driven by a variety of fantasies. What he's created is a modern Marat-Sad-ish romp that transforms at least some of the denizens of this strange netherworld from sex cartoon characters into believable people. With a cast of seven women and five men who throw themselves wholeheartedly into the proceedings, a clever set by Gerard MacMillen, and amusing outfits by Larsen's aide-de-costume of previous productions, Peep Show is very much a full-featured production.
The plot, such as it, begins as Ameer (Steve Hunneshagen), the Pakistani proprietor is cleaning up his "theater" and three of his "leading ladies" arrive to shed their street attire for their working clothes. Rhonda (Deborah Berman) is the gross-me-out-queen of the trio. Sherry (Pia Glenn) is the one who embodies the cautionary message that seems to underlie all of Larsen's plays. She's hooked on drugs. Jennifer (Joanna Keylock) is the one who's pretty and smart enough to seem out of place there. As it turns out, however, she's as hooked as Sherry. The thing is that her addiction is to the money that supports the child she had at age fourteen as no regular job could. This same addiction to money help the new girl in the place, a cash-poor college student named Deidre (Eliza Pryor Nagel) overcome her her initial revulsion to the more profitable activities such as as lap dancing.
Of course, none of these girls would have all these dollar bills to stuff into their bras without the paying customers. Most are buttoned-down suit and tie guys carrying brief cases and lugging the emotional baggage of their own addiction to fantasy sex. Two of these men, Bradley and Philip (Mark T. Leneker and Justin Christopher), are seen both inside and outside the Peep Show. They are friends, as are wives (Laura Frenzer and Cloud Michaels). Some of this intercutting to these married couples at their homes and in the supermarket are clever -- especially the scene where one of the husbands repeats exactly what he said to his Peep Show lady to his wife. Generally speaking though, these marital subplots are unconvincing and silly and manage to showcase nothing so much as Larsen's inability to portray characters outside the more flamboyant Gay world with which he is more intimately acquainted.
Would I recommend this show? As an interesting slice of a particular slice of life that may, at least in New York, be on its way to the land of the dinosaurs, yes. But with such a wealth of strong dramatic fare available around town, it certainly wouldn't be at the top of my list.
Written and Directed by Ronnie Larsen
Assistant director: Toni Marie Davis
Starring: Deborah Berman, Justin Christopher, Michael A. Fox, Laura Frenzer, Pia Glenn, Steve Hunneshagen, Joanna Keylock, Mark T. Leneker, Josh Aaron McCabe, Cloud Michael, Jeffrey Middleton, Eliza Pryor Nagel Scenic Desighn: Gerard MacMillan
Lighting: Brian Aldous
Costumes: Bosco DuChamp Nagel
The Actors' Playhouse, 100 Seventh Av. (Below Sheridan Square in the West Village) (212/463-0060 Performances begin 3/17/98; opens 3/31/98
Reviewed 4/05/98 by Elyse Sommer