Harder, louder, faster! That seems to have been the mantra for Charles Grippo’s crude farce, Sex Marks the Spot, which follows the antics of a sleazy senator who attempts to silence his pornstar mistress from revealing their love affair on national TV. Throw in a cross-dressing son, a randy press secretary, a nosey press agent, a bumbling security guard, a suspicious wife and nebbish campaign manager charged with keeping it all together, and you got the makings of a laugh-a-minute hit, right?
I enjoy farce. But farce is so hard to do, and do right — particularly when it’s a brand new script. Maybe I can point the finger at it only being the fourth performance, but nearly every joke fell flat and every pratfall was accompanied by a wince from the audience.
However, I’m not entirely convinced more rehearsal could fix the problems. It seems the main culprit is the script. The show starts off frenzied and has nowhere to go but haywire. And as the flustered campaign manager, the able-bodied Adam Schulmerich is working so hard to keep the show afloat, he’s sweating bullets by the midway. It’s exhausting to watch — yet not his fault.
Good farce should have a buildup. We need to have some sense of seeing where it’s all going before it gets there. But before we know it, Senator Clooney (yes, Clooney) has inexplicably drugged his mistress (a gangly Maggie Graham), knowing full-well they have a press conference to make, and within seconds of her passing out realizes he probably shouldn’t have done that. The doors of the impressively-designed hotel suite set get a workout before the 15 minutes mark. And for some reason, people keep running out onto the hotel’s patio in their skivvies and getting locked out.
Even in the standards of the world of farce, the action is contrived.
And strangely violent! At one point, the senator, who we’ve grown to deeply dislike by this point, is trying to strike his well-meaning wife, who we’ve just met, over the head from behind with a sculpture. Cut to his campaign manager saying: “You can’t kill her — she’s a human being!” To which Senator Clooney replies, “She’s my wife — it’s not the same thing!”
That’s just a tiny sample of the dated, and slightly offensive, humor on display. I’m not lying when I say they do the “Macarena” at one point — oh, and there’s a Kirstie Alley fat joke as well.
But, for the most part, the cast is quite good. In addition to Shulmerich, Kieran Welsh-Phillips (the aforementioned randy press secretary) and Lisa Herceg (the suspicious wife) seem well-equipped in the spirit of farce, and work the shit out of the clunky script. You just wish you could see them play with better material.
“Sex Marks the Spot” plays through July 25 at the Theatre Building Chicago (now called Stage 773, but I’m not sure when that name change becomes official.) More info here >