Porn to Be Mild

No sex, please, they're skittish at The MAC; comedy galore, mystery a bore in Addison

You'll come for the title. You'll stay for 70 minutes. And you'll go home thinking of punch lines infinitely funnier than the ones coming from the stage in Porn for Puritans, the comedy revue now playing in the little theater at The MAC.

Written and performed by Leigh Tomlinson and Tim Wardell, Porn for Puritansoffers a porn-free cornucopia of weak jokes and trite observations about dating, diddling and doing the deed. Instead of tweaking old stereotypes about gender differences and courtship rituals, the duo just hustle out scores of clichés that play right into them. She wants him to commit after the first kiss. He wants to see her naked before the night is over. Men need more sex. Women need more shoes. They make subpar jokes about making out, breaking up and who gets to hold the remote. They refer to vibrators as "power tools.'' And gaw-lee, the penis shore is a funny-looking leetle thang.

Tomlinson and Wardell write comedy appropriate for a presidential campaign year--the year Dwight Eisenhower ran against Adlai Stevenson. The first time. There's something quaint, provincial and faintly Republican about this show. Their female characters prefer brutes as partners, not sensitive new age guys. Their ideal woman is "a prostitute with a heart of gold."

Porn stars Tim Wardell and Leigh Tomlinson look rather uncomfortable most of the time.
Scott Hunt
Porn stars Tim Wardell and Leigh Tomlinson look rather uncomfortable most of the time.

Between the talky sketches, the pair perform (you couldn't really say "sing'') songs with similarly jejune messages. Sample lyric for Tomlinson in a ditty about how men ought to behave: "You don't have to make the world safer/Just change the roll of toilet paper.'' Yes, that's what women in 2004 want, a world at war, but Charmin freshly at the ready in the loo.

Punch line after punch line creaks like dialogue from Pillow Talk, without acknowledging the camp. The biggest sin in Porn for Puritans is that it just isn't funny. The men-are-horny/women-are-crazy jokes float up from the same shallow pool of mass-market flotsam as Cathy cartoons and the CBS sitcom Yes, Dear. Except by comparison, Yes, Dearplays like Molière.

The material in Porn for Puritans comes from somewhere outside a social zeitgeist in which attitudes toward intimacy have been lubricated by the in-your-crotch directness of Cialis commercials, Real World: Las Vegas and Sex and the City (not to mention the current trend of overtly gay subtexts). Where have the Porn writers been for the past decade? Utah? In this show, I kid you not, a vagina is referred to as "the valley.''

Tomlinson and Wardell met in a local improv troupe. They clearly have been inspired by some well-known comedies about the man-woman thing. Snatches of Friends, Seinfeld, Annie Halland When Harry Met Sally... and bits from Saturday Night Live and Love, American Style turn up in their show. But if they had really bothered to study what good comedy writing is, they would have absorbed basic lessons in the mechanics of it. The jokes in Porn are flaccid and flabby, instead of edgy and specific. A woman's fantasy date, Tomlinson says, would be "Brad Pitt rubbing our feet for an hour and a half with no ulterior motive.'' True, maybe. Funny, not. It's like they're afraid to play too rough with the topic. These kids don't work blue. They work beige.

Doesn't help that the stars of Porn for Puritans have no chemistry as an onstage comedy team. Donny and Marie had more sexual tension. Tomlinson, who bears a slight physical resemblance to Elaine May, grimaces too much and is so tightly wound, it's hard to watch her without worrying that she might burst into tears from the sheer tension of wanting the audience to like her. Wardell is tall and vanilla-pudding bland, a Jeff Bridges type without the oomph beneath the handsome veneer. In a show with such a provocative title, there should be some heat onstage, if only to make the sketches sexier. But when Tomlinson and Wardell are locked in a clinch, as they are in the opening and closing scenes, they look supremely mismatched and rather uncomfortable. Wardell squeezes his partner's backside like he's testing a cantaloupe for freshness.

Truth be told, on the night reviewed, the house was packed. The run of this show has been extended, and there's buzz about it playing on and on, like Theatre Three's I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change. There were laughs from some members of the audience during the performance. Not all-out knee-slapping hardee-hars, but laughs all the same. I never laughed once. Adlai Stevenson was funnier.


To see comedy done right, see Noises Off, the three-act Michael Frayn farce that's just been extended for more performances at WaterTower Theatre in Addison. Director James Lemons and his cast of expert comic actors hit every beat and earn seat-shaking belly laughs in this play about a company of second-rate British thesps rehearsing and then touring a mindless sex romp called Nothing On.

The funniest third of the evening is Act 2, which finds us watching the backstage goings-on during a disastrous performance of the play-within-the-play. As the silly Nothing Onplays out on the other side of the scenery, the feuding, exasperated actors behind the scenes madly juggle their props and costumes, plus a fire ax, a bottle of scotch and numerous bouquets of flowers, all without a word of dialogue. The circus of pantomime and slapstick depends on split-second timing, and the WaterTower cast doesn't miss a trick. Chamblee Ferguson as the accident-prone Freddie, Cyndee Mayfield as the sardine-tossing Dotty, J. Brent Alford as the frustrated director and David Stroh as the aging boy-ingenue Garry Lejeune give performances so good, they make comedy look easy. Even the curtain call is funny.

Just down the hall from Noises Off, in the Black Box Theatre, Rover Dramawerks revives Spider's Web, a rarely performed, early-'50s Agatha Christie mystery. Like the body that turns toes up in the drawing room of lead character Clarissa Hailsham-Brown (Jessica Wiggers), this production doesn't have a pulse.

Carrollton-based Rover Dramawerks concentrates on staging "lost or forgotten works of well-known authors.'' Nowhere in its mission statement, however, does it say it will do them well. Their attempt to spin new interest into Spider's Webends up in a tangle of uninspired direction (by Misty Baptiste), inept acting (by nearly everyone in the cast), haphazard set and costume designs, missed cues and fumbled lines. The show never finds the crisp rhythms needed to sustain suspense or to keep the audience tuned in. Sometimes the pace drags so badly, it's possible to catch a few winks before the next character speaks.

There's not much point in reviving an old-timey whodunit if just sitting through it is murder.

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