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Shyness is Nice

Adam Klasfeld peeps at Marc Spitz's new play about sex, drugs, and pop-culture before it becomes a pornographic film.

Jonathan Lisecki (foreground), Andersen Gabrych,
and Camille Habacker in Shyness is Nice
(Photo: James Habacker)
Fairly explicit portrayals of cunnilingus, constant innuendo concerning the phrase "down under," pulp violence, and hard-core drug use--all in one play! Small wonder that some company snagged the rights to adapt Marc Spitz's Shyness is Nice as an upcoming pornographic film titled Platypussy. If I were to accurately describe this show, the sheer number of unprintable keywords would gain a whole new readership for this website, causing an explosion of hits--but, alas, the implosion of professional credibility.

So, while I censor myself, consider some background information about the playwright: Spitz writes for Spin magazine, so his protagonists--pop-culture victims Stew and Rodney--are in good hands. They are 30-year-old virgins, not only because of their social idiocy but also for "fear of disappointing Morrissey," the joke being that the Brit pop icon is an avowed celibate. Since Morrissey provides the show's central themes, a good deal of its humor, and even its title, the uninitiated may want to pass (or stay just for the dirty bits).

Spitz invites those audience members who remain to laugh at their own savvy. Stew (Zeke Farrow) and Rodney (Andersen Gabrych) are anti-heroes of the tragically hip, as represented by designer Jaclyn Baer's matching indie-rock gear for the duo: faded jeans, "Meat is Murder" and "Death to the Pixies" T-shirts, and short-sleeved, earth-toned button-downs. They pride themselves on their knowledge of fashion, music, movies, and food. When Stew lends Kylie (Camille Shandor), an Australian prostitute, his Mogwai record, he warns: "Don't get it wet!" (Get your mind out of the gutter; the quote refers to the '80s movie Gremlins.) Then, as he goes "down under" on her, he compares the taste of her nether regions to "sake," the Japanese rice wine, and interrupts coitus to recommend "a sake bar on 9th Street." Rodney, while taking Kylie's pimp, Blixa (Sibyl Kempson), from behind, talks about his music selection for the occasion, a song by Sunny Day Real Estate. Staggered, Blixa cries out, "Concentrate on me!"

The one track minds of Stew and Rodney lean more towards pop music than sex. In fact, it turns out theat they never ordered the prostitute; their drug-dealing friend Fitzgerald brought Kylie to their door. Blixa accepts heroin from Fitz as payment because she wants to be like the junk-addled, Aussie-rocker Nick Cave, but discovers that Fitz has mixed the drug with Enfamil. When she arrives on the scene, pistol-in-hand, the fake blood hits the fan; in fact, it projects improbably far across the stage. (Spitz throws in a Trainspotting reference, "Don't squirt the blood on the ceiling," for good measure.) Everyone is trapped at the scene of the crime as Stew yells in desperation, "Where are the neighbors? You play your records at medium volume and they come knocking at the door!"

Think of Marc Spitz as a pop-culture Samuel Beckett on acid; Stew and Rodney are playing a sort of endgame. Deflowered only moments ago, these thirtysomethings have not finished gathering their rosebuds. They search for life's meaning in psychobabble: "First there's denial, depression, acceptance...oh yeah, then death." Finding no luck in that arena, they begin to act like any good existentialist, turning to hard drugs and all-out debauchery. Well, almost: Even with his newfound freedom, Rodney does not remove his socks during sex because, as Stew points out, "He has feet issues."

Here is where Albert Camus meets Steven Morrissey. In "Ask," the Smiths' song that provides this show's title, Moz sings: "Shyness is nice / And shyness will stop you / From doing all the things in life you'd like to." Stew and Rodney were too meek to live the way they wanted. They deprived themselves of sex because of their obsession with Morrissey, whom they will almost certainly never meet. And they didn't smoke--not due to willpower, not because of concern for their health, not even out of respect for Adam Ant, but because their mothers would kill them. Existential freedom gave Stew what would have been the best day of his life, "If it weren't for the murder of my best friend and the doom of my impending death lurching over my head."

Most of the play's dialogue isn't as long-winded as Stew's musings. The sentences are short and choppy, à la Beckett. And, like Beckett's dialogue, Spitz's depends almost entirely on the timing. For the first 15 minutes or so, these actors didn't seem to have it, though the pace picked up after Fitz (Jonathan Lisecki) was killed. Whether or not this was a coincidence is difficult to judge; perhaps Lisecki had an off night. But however his acting abilities pan out, he shines as a director. Like a choreographer on too many aphrodisiacs, he seamlessly--almost exquisitely--manages to stage hard-core sex scenes just beyond the view of the audience. (It's not a porno yet.) And although the cast members make some faux pas--instant sobriety after tripping out on heroin comes to mind--they keep the laughs coming throughout.

What will become of Stew and Rodney? As always, Morrissey supplies the answer: "If it's not love, then it's the bomb that will bring us together." Those of you who think you'll be able to catch the myriad pop-culture references in Shyness is Nice should see the show at the Westbeth Theater. Others might want to wait for the movie.


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