Anal sex, MILFs, threesome videos, a pleasure robot — and Abraham Lincoln. Do we have your attention yet?
Even in the jaded 21st century, sex still sells, and playwright Nate Eppler's new anthology of short works has some fun exploiting the erotic cornucopia of the Internet age. Eppler wants us to laugh at all our sex-obsessed folly, and thanks to some excellent performances in the Playhouse Nashville production, the chuckles are there. But don't expect any sophisticated enlightenment with this piece, which depends too much on titillation to consistently hold interest, and goes to the same well a few times too often, hoping to drive home its points.
Eppler's seven short plays — some realistic, others totally fanciful — include the recurring title piece, in which a married couple view some friends' homemade porn in hopes of gaining pointers on spicing up their sex life; a close bedroom encounter with Honest Abe; a weirdly sexual alien invasion; a Twilight Zone-style opus where a married man creates a compliant sex partner in his basement laboratory; and an offbeat ode to the reassuring charms of moms and grannies.
Another piece with multiple installments is "A Presentation by Lorna Grey," in which a mega-selling book author — in the spirit of Fifty Shades of Grey's E.L. James — delivers an aggressive, no-holds-barred lecture on achieving "personal satisfaction."
These playlets are framed by a series of short pep talks from a "coach" at a blackboard, who lays out general themes on relationships, like, "It's not a game" or "It's not a movie." The tongue-in-cheek "schooling" doesn't usually connect specifically to the material, but it is mildly amusing and works sufficiently as a setup device.
The production was scheduled to co-star well-respected Nashville actor Jessejames Locorriere. According to director Christopher Bosen, Locorriere was a late scratch due to unforeseen circumstances, and his roles were picked up by Bosen and Wilhelm Peters, both of whom fill in admirably. Frankly, you'd never guess the show hadn't been cast that way. Jack Chambers also handles a good portion of the male roles.
But the standout performances here are delivered by the women: Megan Murphy Chambers works the Grey routine with a committed arrogance, while Jennifer Richmond exhibits a wonderful versatility in roles running the gamut from sex kitten to sex robot to a mother who's stolen her daughter's boyfriend.
Eppler has been Nashville's busiest playwright in recent years, enjoying increasing opportunities to have his original scripts heard via readings and fully staged productions. He will participate with several other authors in the upcoming Ingram New Works Festival, May 8-18, under the guidance of Ingram fellow Theresa Rebeck.
In the end, Sextape may prove to be one of Eppler's lesser works — one limited by its scope and occasional penchant for cheap laughs. Still, it's an exercise with verbal value, and theatergoers looking for an adult-themed diversion should be sufficiently entertained.
On the other end of the theatrical spectrum, where life is pastoral and youngsters are welcome, is Nashville Children's Theatre's production of The Wind in the Willows, adapted by NCT artistic director Scot Copeland and composer/arranger Paul Carrol Binkley.
The work has been performed at NCT in previous versions, most recently in 2006. But this may well be the definitive mounting, as a maturing script — with songs featuring original lyrics set to existing tunes from the Gilbert & Sullivan canon — meets with a talented cast, many of whom have previously played the roles of the anthropomorphized forest animals that inhabit Kenneth Grahame's classic 105-year-old children's tale.
The main players — Sam Whited, Rona Carter, Bobby Wyckoff and Peter Vann — have enacted the roles of Toad, Badger, Rat and Mole numerous times, and their confidence with the material shines through. Additional cast members Henry Haggard, Cori Anne Laemmel and Bralyn Stokes add to the whimsical British spirit, with Stokes earning special praise for his turn as the dancing Piper at the Gates of Dawn.
The production is beautifully enhanced by Colin Peterson's computer-based video graphics and Scott Boyd's enchanting scenic design. The special effects include a cleverly constructed boat and motorcar.
The play, which continues at NCT through March 24, is highly recommended for all, ages 6 and up.
Come to the cabaret
In response to enthusiastic demand, Tennessee Repertory Theatre has added two more performances to the schedule for its production of Cabaret at TPAC's Johnson Theater. The additional shows are March 12 and 13 at 6:30 p.m. The final performances are March 16 at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m.