Abandon all hope of stumbling on substance, ye who enter the Longacre Theatre to see its current showing centered on the world of porn. But if you're looking for some off-color, down-and-dirty humor, you could do a lot worse. The Performers is best summed up by one of its own flippant film titles, "I ate Chinese and now I'm hungry"; it's no main course of theater, but it might leave you wanting some more.
It's difficult to shake the feeling that this play would have found a happier home Off-Broadway, but Broadway has worn less-fitting costumes and made them work, so this foul-mouthed play will just have to do its best to fill out the larger, less adventurous houses.
For all his profanity, playwright David West Read actually keeps it pretty clean for a piece about the porn industry. Writing with sitcom precision and timing, Read keeps a quick pace, peppered with jokes and clearly defined characters. He is not offering us anything terribly new, but it is fast and fun and doesn't promise anything more than his play is capable of delivering (provided you don't feel cheated by a lack of nudity, of which there is none -- unless you consider Cheyenne Jackson being shirtless nudity). Director Evan Cabnet performs in a similar manner, not surpassing his duties but competently fulfilling them, by keeping the pace moving and the performances light and funny.
Ari Graynor racks up the most laughs as the emotional and often oblivious Peeps, making brilliant use of throw-away lines, relaxed line-readings, and deceptively absent-minded deliveries that often have delayed contact or appear to hit their mark by accident, though that is all part of Graynor's well-honed comic skills. Cheyenne Jackson offers us another shade of one of his famous male bimbos, this time with more confidence and an immunity to embarrassment as Mandrew. Alicia Silverstone and Daniel Breaker make for a cute and endearing couple of civilians who briefly fall into a decadent world of sexual temptation. Silverstone is a surprising fit in the role and falls in with her fellow cast members seamlessly, as does the fabled Henry Winkler, who has spent the second half of his acting career brilliantly re-discovering himself as The Fool. Winkler plays an unwitting King of the Fools in this comedy with great charm and pulls a little sympathy in the process for the griefs of an aging porn star. Jenni Barber hits her one note repeatedly as Sundown LeMay, never tiring of the ditsy bit, while providing an energy that encourages the audience to do the same.
There's not much to take in with this play, but with no intermission and a running time under an hour and a half, it possesses an enjoyable wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am quality, never biting off more than it can swallow. If affordable tickets are available and expectations aren't high, you could do much worse for an evening at the theater. - C. Jefferson Thom
The Performers has closed.