Las Vegan Ernie Curcio lived in New York for five years as a budding stage director, but he avoided going to see all the anti-Bush and anti-war plays there. It’s not that they insulted him politically. He just found them kind of redundant.
“Political theater is something I try to stay away from, because it’s like, geesh you’re preaching to the choir,” Curcio says. “OK, man, can you say anything that’s good?“
Now the onus is on Curcio to say something good in a political play he’s directing at the Onyx Theatre, debuting tonight. It’s called “7 Blowjobs,” a satire penned by three-time Obie-winning playwright Mac Wellman.
The six-actor play begins with a homophobic Southern Republican receiving a delivery of sex photos. He freaks out, prays and calls on a reverend. The politician and repressed Republicans in his circle experience a range of raw emotions while examining the photos, damning the pictures while also feeling arousal and other natural reactions.
When Curcio’s company, Cockroach Theatre, did the first read-through of the satire, it was clear there were scenes stacked with comic elements. But Curcio wanted to take the play “dead serious.”
“It’s not a political statement,” he says. “That’s the thing we’ve been trying to avoid immensely. … We want to get to the heart of these characters and humanity.”
“In this kind of play, it’s easy to say, ‘(expletive) you,’ and have a laugh at everyone’s expense. But in Cockroach’s hands, it’s going to be something human,” Onyx director John Beane says. “The great satire is ultimately about ourselves.”
These are parodies of Republicans who convulse, drool and become “wiggly” (according to stage directions), while dealing with bottled-up sexuality. Like satire generally, it’s not supposed to adhere to realism. But a goal of Curcio’s is to make them empathetic and not two-dimensional punch lines.
Hypocritical characters “condemn people,” Curcio says. “But they themselves are being turned on, until they disintegrate,” melt, erupt or face other consequences.
Cockroach landed on this play because the group wanted to do a Wellman script, and the presidential election made this one topical.
The setting is a throwback to the cultural wars of the past generation. Wellman wrote the 1991 play after Sen. Jesse Helms went on a rampage against photo artists supported by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Wellman’s writing has been described as esoteric and experimental, among other adjectives.
“He does a lot of style like Gertrude Stein, where it repeats but changes” incrementally for effect, Curcio says. Some lines include, “I am not a pervert. I went to Bob Jones University,” as well as, “Can you please not use your imagination?” and “That is not a blowjob. That is the Pope,” according to a CurtainUp.com review of a production elsewhere.
Two knocks against the play in other cities have been its static stage direction and verbal repetition. In other productions, characters deliver long monologues standing in place. Curcio wants to get around that by stylizing the physicality. Beane says Cockroach presents plays with a “muscular, visceral take on things.”
As for onstage sexuality, there are clothed depictions of gyrating. But sex isn’t naked-y in this production.
“Not this one. Maybe the midnight show,” Curcio jokes. “Just give the audience participation that night.”
Contact Doug Elfman at 702-383-0391 or email@example.com. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.PREVIEW
what: “7 Blowjobs”
when: 8 and 11 p.m. today and Saturday (additional performances through Oct. 4)
where: Onyx Theatre, 953 E. Sahara Ave.
tickets: $18 (732-7225)