NEW YORK—It could have been much worse, but also much better. Reviews for The Performers, a new comedy at the Longacre Theater that opened last night, are rolling in and even though no one is auguring any future awards for the porn-themed production, it is receiving its fair share of positive spin.
Set in a Las Vegas hotel on the night of the famed Adult Film Awards (no relation to the AVN Awards, of course), "the comedy is basically a collision of two couples that forces them to re-examine their attitudes toward sex, monogamy and commitment," according to the Hollywood Reporter, which proclaims that despite "an incandescent comic turn by Ari Graynor," the play is an "old-fashioned Broadway comedy" whose director, Evan Cabnet, "can’t entirely dodge the lags in such featherweight material, but the appealing cast should satisfy undemanding audiences looking for light entertainment with a touch of the risqué."
A similar verdict is made by The New York Times, still the most important review for any New York production. "The Performers offers proof positive that it’s possible to talk real dirty and still be the squarest show in town," states the opening sentence of a substantial review by Ben Brantley, who adds that "it soon becomes clear that The Performers is going to the planet of second-tier sitcoms."
But it's not all doom and gloom from Brantley, who found much to like from some of the performers and jokes. "The Performers reaches its heights, which are mostly foothills, when it follows the internal logic of porn-speak to absurdist extremes," he writes. "Mr. [Cheyenne] Jackson and Ms. [Ari] Graynor are best at giving earnest voice (and body) to this logic, though Mr. [Henry] Winkler is pretty amusing when [his character, aging porn star] Chuck accepts an award saying, 'You’ve opened your hearts and your legs to me.'"
Brantley also gives high, if cautionary, praise to young playwright David West Read. "Though its author is only 29," he writes, “The Performers is like an early Neil Simon farce with an X-rated vocabulary, or a blue-tongued episode of the smirky but sentimental TV series “Love American Style.”
Most of the other reviews already out share the same general consensus that The Performers is traditional fare wrapped around a controversial subject and vulgar language.
The NY Daily News summed up its experience with the following indictment: "A string of easy puns and double entendres and faux XX-film titles like 'Spontaneass' aren’t enough to elevate this beyond a raunchy extended skit."
USA Today found a "stroke of casting genius" among the play's mostly "under-served talent," namely, "Henry Winkler... as Chuck Wood, an aging porn star given to crowing about his, um, sizable credentials."
The Associated Press states happily that "the show has a pure heart and a traditional feel-good message despite the waving of adult toys, simulated sex acts and language that would trigger a seizure in a network censor."
One of the nastier reviews could be found in Newsday, the Long Island paper, whose reviewer, Linda Winer, takes a somewhat moralistic tone from the get-go, writing, "Since theater is meant to stimulate questions, here are a few inspired by The Performers, a new comedy about the porn industry.
"Who on the chart of humanoids are these people? Why are we supposed to care about them? Does anybody really think they are funny? Finally, what in the world are they doing on Broadway? (Or, if they belong there, what does that say about us?)"
She does add, however, that the show is "not shocking because of the nonstop use of playground dirty words or because of its unblinking attitude toward its tired subject matter. It is shocking because it is so idiotic."
These are the professional reviews, of course. Word of mouth could be much kinder to The Performers. An AVN staffer caught one of the early previews of the comedy a few weeks ago and had great things to say about the show. No newb to the "ins and outs" of the porn biz, and a visitor to many porn sets, he said he laughed his ass off, and the full house at the performance he attended laughed their asses off.
A helpful roundup of review synopses for The Performers can be found on Broadway World, with links to the full reviews. Tickets can also be purchased on the site.
Despite getting good enough reviews to justify a longer run, one of the stars of The Performers has just tweeted that Sunday will be the last performance for the porn-themed comedy.
Henry Winkler posted to his Twitter account just after 6pm Thursday evening, "Well sad but true THE PERFORMERS is closing this Sunday the 18th of nov SO If u are coming you have 5 more shows to chose from Love, Henry"
He did not elaborate why the decision to close was made, and a Google search has not turned up any articles out of New York that provide any more information at this time.
Like the Republicans, the producers are placing at least partial blame on Sandy.