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  •  REVIEW: SLUT

      Slut
    Love is bland

    Much less daring than its calculatedly provocative title implies, "Slut" is a musical with admirable professionalism but an ordinary romance plot and some serious writing issues.

    By JOSHUA TANZER
    Offoffoff.com


    From just the title and a rudimentary understanding of reverse psychology, you should be able to figure out that if the show were really filthy, they wouldn't have to call it "Slut."

    SLUT
    Company: Rub-A-Dub Productions.
    Written by: Ben Winters.
    Directed by: Sarah Gurfield.
    Cast: Stephen Bienskie, Victor Hawks, Catherine Carpenter, Mary Faber, Michael Thomas Holmes, Natalie Joy Johnson, Nicole Ruth Snelson, Josh Tyson.
    Music by: Stephen Sislen, Ben Winters.
    Musicians: Amy Southerland, David Southerland, Brian Silvoy, Rick Watson, Jim Cronin.
     SCHEDULE
    Wings Theatre
    154 Christopher St. between Washington & Greenwich
    Aug. 8-24, 2003

      
    "Slut" is a competent, professional, crowd-pleasing musical — and one of the least dangerous shows at the Fringe Festival. It's inevitable in the post-"Urinetown" era that the festival is going to host a certain number of almost ready for Broadway blockbusters with suggestive titles, and that's a good thing if it generates broader interest in what's still this city's biggest showcase for independent theater — but it doesn't mean that you're seeing a daring piece of work just because it has the word "fringe" on the postcard. There should almost be a separate festival — Plucky Musical Week.

    Here's the story. Adam is a charmer who brings home a different woman every night, only to somehow convince them that they're lucky to be shooed unceremoniously out of bed and out the door in the morning, without so much as an "I'll call ya." He takes his square best friend, Dan, out to the local pickup joint for what he and the other regulars familiarly call "Slutterday Night." (They have a song all about it, of course.) Dan is a hit among the girls — excuse me, we always call them sluts in this bar — because he's so innocent and sincere. One slut in particular, a singer named Delia, latches onto Dan, and before you know it they're singing a cloyingly awful romantic duet called "Waking Up in Love" together, which is reprised about five different times to draw out the effect.

    Pretty much everybody in the whole bar finds a partner and gets laid, and, since no good sex ever goes unpunished in mainstream entertainment, by act two they all have terrible consequences to pay. Adam is out of circulation, and Delia and Dan are on the rocks. It's not looking good for our one-night wonders.

    The show does have plenty of good points. Lead actress Nicole Ruth Snelson as Delia has an appealing country-rock sort of voice and undeniable charisma despite mumbling some of her lines and needing a little coaching on how to hold a guitar. The whole cast — probably chosen more for singing ability than acting — is flawless during the musical numbers, with perfect harmonies and several strong lead singers. Director Sarah Gurfield and the five-piece onstage band deserve credit for the overall professionalism of the production.

    A couple of the songs are quite amusing — "Janey's Song," which would more properly be titled "You Can't Date a Guy from Long Island," got big laughs out of the audience. A lot of the throwaway lines are much funnier than the main story. One scene starts in mid-conversation as a bar patron drunkenly recounts: ". . . and so, seven boyfriends and three awkward experiments with lesbianism later, it was time to leave Swarthmore."

    But the show was not satisfying, overall. Most disturbing was a weird racial undercurrent that pervades the script. The running gag about a Latino-ish character called Little Pepe — played by Michael Thomas Holmes with an embarrassingly wrong accent that's half suburban white guy, half Frito Bandito — is that everybody looks at his crotch when they call him "Little" Pepe. And the script is lousy with references to foreign women as exotic sexual conquests. "Somewhere there's an Asian of the female persuasion, whether Chinese or Malaysian," sings Adam in the song "Slut of the World" about the women he'll screw as he sails his boat around the globe. It feels like a play written by a midwestern frat boy whose only exposure to minorities is through TV and maybe pornography. That's especially strange since writer Ben Winters' bio includes publication in the progressive magazines The Nation and In These Times. If "Slut" has a future in New York, Winters is going to have to reconsider the all-white play's attitude toward sex objects of color.

    More generally, the attempts to make what is essentially a bland romance racy enough to get anybody's attention in a "Urinetown" world are unconvincing. The idea that people go to bars looking for quick pickups should surprise nobody who's ever been to a bar, and the play's dirtiest scene, involving one character's parents humping on stage, is just kind of embarrassing. The show is far less provocative than, for example, "Looking for Mr. Goodbar," which was written and filmed almost thirty years ago, and less challenging than last year's fetish-scene expose "Deviant," among other Fringe entries. "Slut" seems coolly calculated for the festival — its tortured attempts to announce its own naughtiness separate it all too thinly from any other musical in which boy and girl press cheek to cheek and sing of love.

    AUGUST 21, 2003
    OFFOFFOFF.COM • THE GUIDE TO ALTERNATIVE NEW YORK



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