Kevin Shinick as Paris Hilton
Photo © Dave Gochfeld
Kevin Shinick as Paris Hilton
Photo © Dave Gochfeld
The producers of I Love Paris have chosen a tasteful postcard image for their show: a still frame from Paris Hilton's infamous sex tape. (Guess which one.) Doug Field's new Off-Broadway play about Ms. Hilton is almost as smutty, vulgar, exploitative, and pandering as the blue movie that propelled the starlet to fame and notoriety. (Oh, yes, she was also featured on the television series The Simple Life.) These are actually some of the show's best qualities! As guilty pleasures go, it's a doozy.

I Love Paris enlists Broadway vet Kevin Shinick to play the hotel heiress. No, he does not perform in drag; and like the writers-performers of Matt and Ben, he never tries to impersonate the star who's being skewered. The play begins when Paris enters a green room of an ABC studio to audition for the fifth seat on the daytime talk show The View. While she waits, she shares her thoughts about her life and her fellow celebrities with the audience; her snarky one-liners about A-listers would make Michael Musto and Joan Rivers jealous.

Still, it would be disingenuous to call I Love Paris an examination of celebrity culture. For all its cheek, the play never addresses the widespread but unsubstantiated rumor that publicists leaked the porno tape to draw attention to The Simple Life; Field's Paris seems genuinely surprised by the incident, even though she is mostly appalled by the lack of backlighting in the flick. Similarly, she calls Mary-Kate Olsen "fat" in a pert reference to the actress's reported anorexia, sidestepping another widespread but unsubstantiated rumor concerning Olsen's alleged abuse of cocaine. A true critique of the biz would address such issues in greater depth.

Call it acceptable irreverence. It's conceivable that the Fox producers would approve of this portrait of Hilton as a charming, sexually liberated ditz. Lines about her accidental wisdom range from the hilarious ("I think the Treaty of Versailles is overrated") to the adolescent ("Is there life on my anus?"). Paris expresses camaraderie with The Vagina Monologues creator Eve Ensler and offers her own ode to her nether regions. Just as Ensler reclaimed the word "cunt," this Paris raises the term "skanky bitch" to a level of respectability.

Of course, the cross-gender casting gives the male actor's pointed references to his "poonany" an extra edge. Critics susceptible to hype will call this "another triumph of non-traditional casting." A male Paris does make for some funny punchlines, but exclamations such as "I like dick!" ultimately amount to gay jokes; even when they're amusing, they're hardly trailblazing.

The myriad references to Madonna/Esther and kabbalah, Martha Stewart and incarceration, Ashley Judd and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, etc. will be dated in a month, but you've got to give the playwright credit for staying so current. Theater people will laugh at Hilton butchering the title of the yet-to-be-written Edward Albee play Who's Afraid of Peter and the Wolf? but endless jokes about the Avenue Q puppets will wear out even the most diehard fans of that show.

One recurring gag has Paris munching on almonds that she finds in the room, and director Timothy Haskell makes sure that these nuts turn up in the oddest places. Haskell fills the production with many other pleasant surprises, and Shinick is an excellent actor. Some of the quips that Field has written for Paris are priceless, including this one about Pamela Anderson: "She lost weight. That takes guts. Plus, she fucked that old guy for money, and that takes character." Still, in the end, this highly entertaining show falls far short of scathing satire.