David West Read's porn-industry comedy The Performers, helmed by Evan Cabnet in his Broadway directorial debut and featuring Henry Winkler, Alicia Silverstone, and Cheyenne Jackson as a man-child adult film star, is the funniest thing I've seen in some time. The playwright has honed a precision-lowbrow type of humor, a mixture of crude sexual jokes and bright relationship comedy that succeeds through a combination of smooth, quick pacing and pinpoint delivery.
A comedy in both senses of the word, the play is spicily and broadly funny but also traces two relationships that surmount troubles to shine with optimism in the end. Mr. Jackson plays Mandrew, a vain young porn star brimming with confidence he'll win a coveted award at an impending adult video awards ceremony. As his porn-star wife, the scratchy-voiced redhead Peeps, Ari Graynor nearly steals the show ascending into high dudgeon upon discovering Mandrew has broken the cardinal rule of porn life: while of course you can have sex on camera with anyone you're cast with, you may kiss no one but your real-life love.
Along with two other porn stars, the topographically enhanced Sundown LeMay (Jenni Barber) and the aging Jewish eminence grise Chuck Wood (Henry Winkler) - a character presumably inspired partly by Ron Jeremy - we meet Mandrew's high school friend Lee (Daniel Breaker of Passing Strange), a straight-laced tabloid journalist doing a story on Mandrew, and Lee's math-teacher wife Sara (Ms. Silverstone), mousy but secretly blowzy. As these two more-or-less innocents are separately drawn into the glitzy everything-on-the-surface world of the porn industry, they take us merrily along for the ride, and the play becomes at the same time an affectionate tribute to and mockery of that primary-colors world. Winkler's acceptance speech, Peeps's and Sara's bonding scene, and the fast-paced interview session between Lee and Mandrew are a few of the highlights, but there's a consistent flow through the play's 90-minute single act; the action never flags, and I laughed out loud more than I have in months.