Sucking Off-Broadway

Written by Mark Peikert on . Posted in Posts, Theater.


Know what’s hilarious? The abuse and exploitation of Deep Throat star Linda Lovelace. At least, that’s what the team behind the wholly unnecessary Off-Broadway production of The Deep Throat Sex Scandal seems to think.


A whiplash-inducing hybrid of satire and sincerity, David Bertolino’s script doesn’t have a tenth of the entertainment found in the 2005 documentary Inside Deep Throat, which examined the cultural cache and fallout from the infamous 1972 porno. Focusing on prosecuted actor Harry Reems helpfully avoids a lot of Lovelace’s personal demons, but the handful of times she appears with her boyfriend-abuser Chuck are awkward. A scene where Chuck forces Linda to practice relaxing her gag reflex in the booth of a diner elicits uncomfortable laughter, a reaction that should probably not happen when a woman is forced to perform oral sex.

The inherent drama of the backstory keeps the show afloat for a while, though. Unable or unwilling to prosecute director Gerry Damiano or Lovelace, Nixon’s moral police instead took aim at Reems, putting him on trial in Memphis for conspiracy to distribute obscenity over state lines. After being convicted, star defense attorney Alan Dershowitz got Reems acquitted. But the lazy script (must we once again be subjected to hooded-eyed hippies taking a toke and then making out with one another to establish the time period?) and Jerry Douglas’ broad direction keep the show from ever becoming anything approaching the crowd-pleasing defense of the First Amendment defense it wants to be. And after seeing these actors simulate sex and playfully (and heavy-handedly) flash the audience, hearing them earnestly list the books, magazines and films that may never have been released if it weren’t for the Deep Throat trial may result in some severe eyerolling.

The acting, with a few exceptions, is very good. Malcolm Madera has a smarmy charm as Reems, and a pleasant rapport when he breaks the fourth wall to narrate the proceedings. Lori Gardner, as Lovelace, is touching (despite a terrible wig) as first the painfully shy ingénue and then the world-famous entertainer she became once freed from the abusive Chuck (Zach Wegner, who isn’t quite dangerous enough to be menacing). Rita Rehn is a comic delight as a variety of women who flit in and out of the proceedings, but her porn director character Mona is so broad as to be a caricature of sketch comedy, totally out of place in the rest of the show.

But, as always, it’s Frank Blocker who proves to be the real delight of the evening. Anyone who has had the misfortune to never see one of his one-man, multiplecharacter shows must rectify that as quickly as possible (he’s performing some of them Monday nights this fall). For those of us who have had the pleasure, Blocker provides one of his typically vocally diverse performances in a handful of role, culminating in a grandstanding description as prosecutor Larry Parrish, of the blowjob scene in Deep Throat between Reems and Lovelace. No word is too short for Blocker to add an extra Southern-drawled syllable or two to, and no description is too clinical for Blocker to make drip with lasciviousness. For a moment, The Deep Throat Sex Scandal becomes the comedy about regulating morality that it could have been, had Bertolino or Douglas shown more focus.

>> The Deep Throat Sex Scandal Through Dec. 19, Bleecker Street Theatre, 45 Bleecker St. (at Lafayette St.), 212-239-6200; $25–$80.