Homoeroticism and camp are the things that glue Impact Theatre together. We knew that from watching Learn to Be Latina, about a Lebanese lesbian trying to make it as a Latina pop star, and MilkMilkLemonade, about a young, gay musical theater geek growing up on a chicken farm. Both of those plays were innocently outré. They were structured as coming-out narratives, with a subtext about gender and ethnic stereotypes. Both plays flirted with the idea of gay sex, but never quite delivered. In that sense, they were the theater equivalent of a Dan Savage podcast — always ending with the reassurance that "It only gets better."
Indeed, it does. Impact's current comedy, The Play About the Naked Guy, seems like a logical next step. Its title screams "porn," and its storyline promises as much. It's intended for literal interpretation. Actually, there is a naked guy. But he's not The Naked Guy. And he's not really what the play is about.
In the first scene, we're introduced to a struggling theater company called "The Integrity Players," whose members specialize in rare classics (e.g., The Perplexities of Tristan). Their cast includes husband-and-wife couple Dan (Brian McManus) and Amanda (Eliza Leoni), along with hapless, closeted Harold (Jai Sahai), who appears to own a whole wardrobe of Edinburgh Festival T-shirts. The Integrity Players provide endless opportunities for theater nerd humor. They wear mismatched cummerbunds and communicate emotions by shaking their fists. Their entire set design (courtesy of Jax Steager) is three walls of hand-drawn cobblestones. Their whole existence depends on charity from Amanda's rich mother, Mrs. Anderson (Monica Cappuccini), who doesn't like Dan at all. They're one rent check away from prostitution.
Then comes the fun part. Wandering through a dance club, Harold stumbles upon a similar acting troupe involved in a much more lucrative enterprise: gay porn. Improbably, the makers of such hits as Naked Boys Running Around Naked are scouting locations for their sequel. The Integrity Players' home base, Baruch Performing Arts Center, seems like a perfect fit. Fearing the end of Mrs. Anderson's largesse, the Players make a new Faustian bargain, and agree to co-produce a trashy reinterpretation of The Passion of the Christ. The new raunchfest will star a hot twink, Kit Swagger (Steven Satyricon), who is apparently a kingpin of low-budget sexploitation. Even Mrs. Anderson can't help but succumb to the porn company's charm — she thinks that producer Eddie Russini (John Ferreira) is exceptionally good with finances.
So the two struggling companies combine forces. Every character has his own secret motivations. Mrs. Anderson wants to pry her pregnant daughter away from deadbeat Dan. Russini wants to turn shit into art. Dan and Amanda want medical care. Gay extras T. Scott (Adrian Anchondo) and Edonis (Timitio Artusio) want sex and pills. Kit Swagger wants to become a bona fide actor. Harold wants to hook up with Kit Swagger. The whole set becomes a cauldron of lust.
Or not. Lust never simmers for too long in any Impact play. In this case, director Evren Odcikin aimed for the biting irony that made Jerry Springer: The Opera such a must-see when it graced Victoria Theater earlier this fall. Artusio and Leoni were poached directly from the cast of Springer, while Satyricon counts the Cockettes' Pearls Over Shanghai among his adult theatre credits. Those aren't typical résumé boosters, but they lend Naked Guy an extra bit of street cred. Satyricon hasn't quite refined his acting chops, yet, but he certainly can hump a pole — the other characters could have easily rechristened him "Kit Slither."
By far, the best actor here is Cappuccini, who is — as T. Scott puts it — absolutely fierce. A handsome woman with business suits and frosted blond hair, she sips martinis from slender glasses, chomps on the olives, and spends loads of scene time parked in her own corner, flipping through trashy magazines. When she's not barking at actors or castigating her son-in-law, she'll occasionally slip Russini a sly, conspiring look. There's nothing not to love about this woman.
Plot-wise, Naked Guy is more skeletal than the average Impact production. MilkMilk was shorter, but more crammed with detail. Learn to Be Latina had more plot twists. Naked Guy does away with character development, or depth, for that matter. It's really just one long joke, with a lot of cheap laughs in between. Still, it's a new milestone for the small Berkeley ensemble. That crucifixion scene is as close to full frontal as Impact Theatre gets.
LaVal's Subterranean Theatre