Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Review: (Ottawa) Skinflick

A Tame Foray into the Adult Film Industry 
by Robyn Lester

It was adults-only last night at the launch of Ottawa Little Theatre’s 101st season. The play that rung in the new era? Skin Flick, a mildly risqué comedy written by Norm Foster about three unemployed adults who decide that the best solution for their cash-flow problem is to get involved in the billion-dollar porn industry. 

After reflecting on what I saw, I find myself unsure how to proceed with this review. But I will start by saying this: I have never been to a production that elicited such a strong positive reaction from the crowd. There was such uproarious laughter and clapping that the actors occasionally had to pause before delivering their next line. From the sounds of it, everyone absolutely loved the production. Then there was me. Little Miss Negative Nancy.

I suppose going in I had high expectations. After all, a story about three middle-aged adults deciding to make a porno just screams comedy. And yes, there were some fantastic jokes, even if some of them got a little repetitive, but the comedy alone wasn’t enough to make this play stand out. Something was missing from the story. Maybe it was the fact that it didn’t push me out of my comfort zone. Or maybe the use of narration slowed down the story and prevented me from really getting absorbed by it. Regardless, something in the writing caused me to feel frustrated. A shame really, because everything else about it was fantastic, and I desperately wanted to love it.   

Writing aside, the production was very well done. The directorial debut of Venetia Lawless, this production went off without a hitch (except for a couple of line fumbles). The staging was well-executed and there was great use of physical comedy that helped bring the production to a whole new level. There was also a video at the beginning that gave a very short history of pornography, as well as a video at the end showing the trailers for the supposed films that the characters made. It was a fun idea and worked well to bookend the whole thing. 

I was particularly struck by the actors. They all had tremendous comedic timing, something that isn’t always easy to pull off. Dale MacEachern played Rollie Waters, the narrator, emphasizing a straitlaced quality that added some comedic contrast. Irish O’Brien who played Daphne, Rollie’s wife, stood out as particularly hilarious with a subtle delivery of one-liners hinting at her husband’s lack of performance in the bedroom. Kenny Hayes did a wonderful job portraying Byron Hobbs, a very shy and uncharacteristically forceless bookie turned porn star. And Rachel Davies as Jill, the uninhibited and self-possessed star of the film, had fantastic stage presence. But Geoff Gruson as Alex Tratt, a sleazy yet endearing cameraman, was my personal favourite.   

This production left me confounded. All the elements were there. It was funny, the acting was fantastic, the directing was great, the set was superb (I’m always very impressed with the sets at the Ottawa Little Theatre). Yet I was left feeling unfulfilled. It seemed like the story dragged on longer than it needed to with a bunch of unrelated and unnecessary filler written into the narration. That being said, there’s no denying it was a hit amongst the audience. Although I desired a production that would push the boundaries a bit more, it’s obvious that the Ottawa Little Theatre chose something that was very well-suited to their audience.  

Skinflick is at Ottawa Little Theatre to September 28
Run Time: 110 minutes 

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