REVIEW: Sex Marks the Spot (New Lincoln Theatre)

Even a farce needs to be sincere

  Maggie Grahm and Tony Fiorentino star in Sex Marks the Spot, the incredibly funny political comedy playing at the Theatre Building Chicago.

  
New Lincoln Theatre presents
  
Sex Marks the Spot
  
Written by Charles Grippo
Directed by
Damian Arnold
at
Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 W. Belmont (map)
through July 25th  |  tickets: $26   | more info

reviewed by Aggie Hewitt

Sex Marks the Spot is a farce about a political sex scandal. Or at least, it wants to be one. At the top of the play, Senator Clooney (Tony Fiorentino) is pacing around his office, badgering his assistant (Adam Schulmerich) as they attempt to finalize the big family values speech that he is going to deliver at tonight’s big debate with porn star Desiree Le Bonque. The reason he’s debating a porn star instead of a politician is Tony Fiorentino and Maggie  Graham star in  Sex Marks the Spot, the incredibly funny political comedy playing at the Theatre Building Chicagothat his opponent is a priest and, the men have decided that no one can debate a priest and come away from it looking good, so the big porn star offers herself up to be eaten alive in front of thousands of people, a task playwright Charles Grippo assumes, women like her have no problem with. Grippo punishes his audience with a list of Desiree’s films, with names like "Saturday Night Beaver" and "Free My Willy" which, may sound familiar to you, probably because they’re the oldest jokey porn names in the history of jokey porn names.

This kind of thoughtless writing doesn’t bode well for the farce genre, especially a farce like this one, which is in the Noises Off vein of slamming doors and timed exits. Grippo’s logic is faulty, and thus, so are his bits. The audience gets ahead of Grippo at the plays open, and it’s impossible for him to win them over. This is a play without one foot on the ground, nothing real or honest linking the words on stage to the people in the audience, except for it’s earnest cast.

This alone is not enough to garner the obvious venom on the tone of this review. What Charles Grippo is actually guilty of is creating a character that is a disgusting and offensive parody of a woman – a woman who is so broad and weakly conceived that the only characteristic she possesses is vague sycophantism and greed. The only choice this woman makes in the entirety of the play is to take off her clothes, which remain off for the duration of the show. When we finally meet Desiree Le Bonque, she is not written as a porn star, she is written as a whore. She is revealed to be having a secret affair with the senator, and she confronts the him with an ultimatum, marry me or I’ll tell. But it’s her reasoning that pushes her over the edge: she wants the one thing she can’t have: respect. So she asks to marry the one man who can give it to her. Farce or no farce, I can’t imagine a woman alive who still thinks this way, especially one who is supposed to be as successful as Desiree Le Bonque.

   

Adam Schulmerich and Tony Fiorentino star in Sex Marks the Spot, the incredibly funny political comedy playing at the Theatre Building Chicago Tony Fiorentino and Lisa Herceg star in  Sex Marks the Spot, the incredibly funny political comedy playing at the Theatre Building Chicago.

In a later scene, in which the truly talented Adam Schulmerich is forced to masquerade as Desiree, the scene escalates near to the point of rape, because of the supposed understanding that a denial of sex with the man in question will reveal that he is not, in fact, this woman. The scene is intended to be funny, but is actually one of the most disturbing scenes I have ever seen in a piece of live theater. It’s not the punchline of this joke that’s horrible, it’s the set up. It’s not the sex, or the sexualization, it’s the total lack of power and credibility this character has, and the information that the audience is supposed to take for granted, that makes for an extremely uncomfortable night of theater. Sex Marks the Spot is intended to be a comedy, but ultimately this is a play that is too far removed from humanity to parody the human condition.

  
  
Rating: ★½
  
  

Tony Fiorentino, Adam Schulmerich and  Maggie Graham star in  Sex Marks the Spot, the incredibly funny political comedy playing at the Theatre Building Chicago.

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Review: Brain Surgeon’s “1512 West Studebaker Place”

 Promising, if Incomplete, “1512 Studebaker” brings the Depression Era Alive

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Brain Surgeon Theater presents:

1512 West Studebaker Place

conceived by Liz Ladach-Bark and Joseph Riley
directed by Liz Ladach-Bark
thru November 22nd (ticket info)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

romance One thing you have to say about Brain Surgeon Theater’s latest production: they do crowded tenement right. In fact, 1512 West Studebaker Place maintains such a solid 1930’s tone, it’s hard to believe it’s a contemporary original production—the idea conceived by Liz Ladach-Bark and Joseph Riley, the play written and developed by the ensemble cast, with original music by Christopher Cole and Gwen Tulin. It has all the look and feel of a work that could have been produced from one of the New Deal’s arts programs. Even its incomplete finish does not diminish the ensemble’s achievement in the depiction of suffocating economic despair.

The production’s greatest strength is its realistic and cohesive integration of adult and child players. The Kelly family, headed by Stanley (Buck Zachary), wife Olivia (Katie Canavan) and sister Louise (Gwen Tulin), with their daughters Kate (Layla Kornota) and Suzy (Megan Bishop), live cheek-by-jowl with fellow borders Mim (Amy Gorelow), her niece Juliet (Laura Deger), writer Walter Lummet (Jacob A. Ware) and his little boy Mouse (Ethan Baum). Months of back rent are due to landlady Maggie Delaney, executed with absolutely sinister menace by Lauren I. Sivak.

Maggie Delaney walks in and out of their home without bothering to knock on the door. She involves Suzy in a secretive scheme. Bit by bit, she takes everything her tenants own—even callously wearing a hat that Louise has had to give up with the rest of her elaborate wardrobe.

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But the Kelly family may be just as much at the mercy of Stanley’s unrealistic hopes of owning a toy factory, as they are the economy. In fact, as naturalistic as family and tenant interactions are in this play, what strains credulity the most is Olivia’s enduring, patient acceptance of Stanley’s pipedreams and procrastination. The weakest moments of the play come at the end. When there is finally nothing left for Maggie Delaney to take, everyone gets thrown out of the house. Even a dutiful 30’s housewife would have something to say in response to the loss of her home and the imperiled state of her children, but Olivia remains silent in the face of Stanley’s insipid reassurances.

walter'sshadow The children’s games and songs in the play say volumes about living in poverty, often more than the play’s text itself. The plot developments, such as the revelation of a hidden safe in the house and a budding romance between the silently despairing Mim and butcher’s assistant Clarence, played warmly and compassionately by Rob Grabowski, deepen the world of the play and provide relief to this work’s unending hopelessness.

The plaintive figure of Mouse, jeopardizing his life by crawling out his attic room window to sit and sing in a tree, remains one of the play’s most enduring images. What gets lost in a muddle on stage, at the end of the play, is the dramatic significance of Mim opening up and speaking to him–a problem that could be resolved with some clean up in direction.

1512 West Studebaker Place is still incomplete and audiences should consider it very much a work in progress. But the Brain Surgeons have gotten it this far. The bones of a really good play are there. Let’s hope they will take it the all the way home.

Rating: ★★½

 

Read additional Studebaker Place review, by Henry H. Perritt, Jr., by clicking on “Read more”.

   

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