By Bill Hirschman
In England in the 1960s and lasting even into the early 1980s, a genre of theater and film flourished called the British sex comedy. Unabashedly broad, silly and even stupid, it’s only two assets were door-slamming farce and humor rooted in joyful nose-thumbing at straight-jacketed mainstream societal strictures about sex.
Island City Stage, which focuses on gay-themed work, apparently thought it was time to revive the genus with the world premiere of Lipstick, whose primary twist is that the farce centers on lesbians and the gay men in their orbit.
Lane Michael Stanley penned the script stuffed with obvious but intermittently funny one-liners. One man is asked if always knew he was gay, to which he answers, “I went from pacifiers… to pencils… to,” and lets the line trail off into a wide grin.
Equally represented are sight gags such as a large red rubber dildo (only one of many such devices required by the script) being accidentally employed many times for purposes that its manufacturer never imagined.
And when in doubt, Lipstick has a stereotypical raging queen scream loudly at the tiniest provocation. It’s like an early Tyler Perry Madea play for a gay audience.
What makes this production land at all is the skilled work of director Andy Rogow, artistic director of the company, who drives this with the unflagging pace of a Lamborghini racing up I-95 at three in the morning, injects scores and scores of physical humor and staging, and who has drilled his cast to deliver the lines with classic comedic timing. Lipstick and Stanley are lucky to have him.
The premise is that Anna (Vanessa Elise), a likable chef in New York City, is nervously awaiting a meeting in her apartment with a woman she met in yoga class, Kelly (Abby Nigro). She and over the top buddy Mal (Corey Rose) are trying to figure out if Kelly is gay and open to a relationship. Anna is getting over a breakup with Cara (Rachel Gil de Gibaja) who interrupts Anna’s preparations — minutes after walking out on a wedding ceremony to a straight man.
When the intensely woebegone but equally likable Kelly arrives, the two women engage in a verbal dance in which neither really knows where the other is coming from. Unfortunately, Kelly actually isn’t sure what her sexuality is. Complicating matters are the arrivals of Mal’s out-of-town mom (Christina N. Alexander) wanting to visit every single NYC highlight in one day, Hank (Peter Bisuito) the handyman who keeps interrupting matters to fix the bathroom, and a very strange The Bandit Man (Dean Nigro) who comes to the front door in different costumes.
Stanley certainly understands that the secret of the genre’s popularity is the delight in the unrestrained use of sex as humor. This may be the first play in which you hear the term “twat block.”
The sound of cats ferociously fighting in an offstage bedroom leads Mal to quip, “I want full credit for not making a pussy joke.” Will the drummer give us a rim shot, please? Well, perhaps that’s a wrong term for me to use here.
And there is an extended debate among Anna and Mel in front of Kelly debating whether she is “L” or “B” or “Q,” one of the funnier bits that actually has a shred of social commentary.
Sex comedy also enjoyed a protracted life in France and formed the basis for several British film series such as the “Carry On” and “The Adventures of…” movies. Their antecedents date back to the Restoration and even the Greeks. The 1962 classic Boeing Boeing enjoyed a revival in 2007-2008 in London and New York. Some might even argue that Eisenhower Era films of Marilyn Monroe and Doris Day qualify, as would the Porky movies, American Pie and Judd Apatow films, although I’d contend those are a different animal altogether. We can meet later and discuss.
Look, it’s supposed to be silly and stupid, although I’ll argue not this silly or this stupid. IStill, grant that anytime you have four doors to slam and people hiding (including in the closet) it’s hard to resist laughing at points. A receptive audience will likely have a good time. But it’s more kin to (the far better) Are You Being Served than (the far, far funnier) Noises Off.
Lipstick runs through Dec. 15 from Island City Stage at the Wilton Theatre Factory, 2304 N. Dixie Highway, in Wilton Manors, 954-928-9800, IslandCityStage.org, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 5 p.m. Sundays. Running time 70 minutes with no intermission.
A word about parking: You may park in any of the spaces around the entire building in which the theatre is located, regardless of tow signs. In addition, you may park at the Poverello Live Well Center located behind the theatre (ignore the towing signs posted there). Please do not park in the retail space directly across the street from the Island City Stage front door.