It's about as classy as a boner in sweatpants. That's something people might say about the play at None Too Fragile Theater, if it weren't too on-the-nose. Fact is, there are multiple boners in sweatpants in Pure Shock Value by Matt Pelfrey.
There isn't much elegance to this tale of three young Hollywood guppies who fancy themselves industry barracudas in the making. There is a reference to pedophilia, some exotic drug use, and other serious felonies afoot. But Pelfrey's quicksilver dialogue and Sean Derry's fearless direction keep this manic, frequently hilarious, and often too-predictable comedy afloat just long enough to arrive at an ending that will leave you tumescent with joy ... or limp from shock.
Tex is an aspiring screenwriter whose claim to fame is a self-proclaimed ability to craft fart jokes (hey, listen, Hollywood careers have been built on thinner skill sets). He and his director pal Ethan have been trying to get their flatulence-themed movie "Barking Spiders" seen by someone, anyone, at the major studios.
And they're brimming with optimism until Ethan's girlfriend and sometimes producer Gabby returns to Ethan's crib from her meeting with a studio player. Turns out the "player" was just an intern, an unusually mature-looking high school sophomore at that. This is a fact she learns after she consents to give him a hummer in the studio parking lot.
Getting desperate, Tex convinces the other two that they have to come up with a startling, un-ignorable hook for their flick, preferably made up of humor and "pure shock value." If this sounds like a crazy plan, just consider the shock value that many current films utilize, such as the bear-on-man ghastliness in Revenant and the unhinged carnage in Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight.
Speaking of that, a Tarantino avatar shows up in Pure Shock Value, like a gift from the movie gods. Stumbling around and moaning in Ethan's backyard, he's dragged inside by the trio who suppose he's a homeless man on crack. Turns out he's a world-famous director on crack (or PCP, or both). He is the very Tarantino-like Julian Quintana, a massively successful director of pure-shock-value films.
This triggers one of the funnier sequences in the show, as the three movie buffs try to categorize, in industry terms, the good fortune that has fallen in their undeserving laps. Referencing the meltdowns of movie stars Margot Kidder and Robert Downey Jr., who both wound up dazed and confused on suburban Los Angeles-area properties, Tex and company decide their situation is "a Kidder with Downey overtones."
Once the intrepid trio figures out who the strung-out wastrel really is, they quickly forge a scheme. They will bring him back to consciousness with a cocktail muddled with massive amounts of uppers and Viagra, show him a rough cut of their film, and sign a huge contract. In short, it's a fantastical, ejaculatory orgasm of a deal that even a short-fingered vulgarian would envy.
Even though the story line is familiar to the point of exhaustion — another plot about Hollywood assholes? Really? — playwright Pelfrey deploys plenty of sharp interchanges. (One character puts down another's hopeless idea by saying, "You're like a cat trying to bury a shit on a marble floor.") And he has some dazzling moments of inspiration. One of those is Tex's brainstorm of doing a movie titled Fisting Spielberg. But Gabby demurs, pointing out the marketing challenges that might arise from "doing a film about ass-banging the maker of E.T."
This play is a fast and messy affair that could easily go flying over the guardrail of farce into the oblivion. Thankfully that doesn't happen because it's anchored by Alanna Romansky as Gabby. Adopting a cute Portuguese-ish accent and a gum-chewing, fuck-you savoir faire, Romansky is both sultry and sublimely amusing — a tough feat to pull off. She even manages to make Gabby's intermittent soul-searching reveries work, despite the clumsiness of the writing in those patches.
As Tex, Benjamin Gregorio fairly jumps out of his skin with live-wire intensity, and it often works splendidly. However, since his highs and lows are fairly indistinguishable, due to the charged nature of his performance, he doesn't strike as many notes as he could. Brian Kenneth Armour's mellow Ethan kind of fades into the woodwork with all the fireworks going on around him.
One of those cherry bombs is Robert Branch, who trembles, foams and seizes for a long time before he begins to speak as Quintana, beset by his curiously raging hard-on. Once he does utter meaningful words, Branch conveys the personality of this Hollywood prick in a few short, devastating strokes.
Of course, nothing can quite match the ending of this play, which boldly mounts a comical precipice few would ever straddle. It's at that final moment when you fully understand what happens when black humor is married unequivocally to Pure Shock Value.