The Deep Throat Sex Scandal
Written by David Bertolino
Directed by Jerry Douglas
In the face of obscenity, Harry Reems wants us to get naked—at least that's the impression David Bertolino's The Deep Throat Sex Scandal gives. The play follows the making of the notorious "fuck film" Deep Throat and its immense repercussions. The comedy embodies what it means to fight for freedom—or perhaps just for nudity—when the censors attack.
The story is narrated by porn star Harry Reems (Malcolm Madera) who brings us from his rise to fame during the making of Deep Throat, a 1972 skin flick about a female patient whose clitoris is in the back of her throat, to his legal battle against Tennessee prosecutor Larry Parish (Frank Blocker) who leads a nation that deems oral sex more sinful than bestiality or child porn.
Reems' narration is compelling and relatable, as he plays a nobody driven to become a somebody. He yearns to become an actor so badly that he has no issue with using adult movies as stepping-stones. Teaming up with hairdresser by day-adult filmmaker by night Gerard Damiano (John-Charles Kelly), Reems finds his calling in the low-budget, mob-funded Florida project Deep Throat. Here we're introduced to Linda Lovelace (Lori Garner), a timid newcomer to the porn industry whose self-esteem is as damaged as her relationship with husband and manager Chuck Traynor (Zach Wegner). As both Harry and Linda are launched into the world of adult filmmaking, the actors deliver a strikingly hysterical performance, be it during Linda's awful first attempts at wide-eyed, emotionless acting, or Harry's attempted use of an accent to demonstrate his acting ability.
As the pair acts out the making of a scene, the actual footage from Deep Throat is projected in the background, adding to the hilarious contrast between play and porn. This technique is used continuously throughout the production, showing clips of news reporters and even Nixon's speeches against obscenity. Harry's continued addresses to the audience and archival clips integrated into the plot make the story more accessible—though Harry's character seems to have about as much control as the viewer. The walls of the stage are adorned with two hanging mannequins wrapped in pages of the U.S Constitution and rolls of film that frame the white backdrop. The mannequins embody the dilemma of freedom of expression through free speech; the backgrounds are cleverly projected onto the screen, saving on props and space. A continuous hot pink light shining onto the stage makes for a very "skin flick" feel.
Deep Throat launches its cast-members to levels of fame they never knew they'd reach, but as Linda's struggle to find empowerment through her work flourishes, the play focuses on Harry's plight—despite porn veteran Shana Babcock's (Rita Rehn) spiel about how the woman comes first in adult films. Ironically, the movie only becomes successful when the government makes it the centerpiece of its fight against obscenity. Larry Parrish plays dirty with Harry, finding loophole after loophole to hold him accountable for the entirety of Deep Throat. Faced with an impartial judge and jury, Harry turns to attorney Alan Dershowitz (Kelly again) in hopes of fighting a fleeting first amendment battle.
The debate rages, inviting heated responses from both ends of the spectrum. This leads Parrish to deliver the most descriptive, grotesque, and awesome speech against obscenity that you're likely to hear in a play this year. We are challenged to ask ourselves how far one can go before artistic expression is considered obscene. Does freedom of speech include freedom of expression and is it right to ignore these conflicts entirely? And finally, if Deep Throat were to pass, what else would pass because of it? Without Linda's help, Harry is thrown into a lion's den of anti-oral conservatives looking for any and every means to put him down. However, like any good porn star, Harry finds a way to stay up.
(photo credit: Carol Rosegg)