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Theater Review (NYC): ‘Standards of Decency 3: 300 Vaginas Before Breakfast’

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What does a computer “think” when it’s being used to view internet porn?

What does constant communication through electronic devices do to our day-to-day experience of life?

And most important: As suggested by indie rocker and admitted porn junkie John Mayer, what is it like to look at 300 vaginas in a row?

For the latest edition of its Standards of Decency series, Blue Coyote Theater Group commissioned nine playwrights to create 10-minute plays “to help us understand what the new media are doing to us…at the place where technology, sex, and relationships interface.” Mission accomplished, though any project of this scope is bound to be uneven and some of these plays work better than others. All have something to say. Nearly all are diverting, some distinctly thought-provoking. The best provide real delight, and the cleverest come at the beginning.

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In the original and highly entertaining Bits, Bruce Goldstone hilariously takes the perspective of the bits – the ones and zeros – inside the computer. Then, Jordan Seavey’s well-acted any one: seven or so touches in ten or so minutes follows a lonely single woman through a seemingly unremarkable day filled with touching by strangers, usually unwanted but sometimes secretly otherwise: fellow subway passengers, a hairstylist, a yoga instructor. Rachel Craw delivers one of the evening’s standout performances in the lead role.

Another fine performance, and a dangerous one, comes from Jim Ireland as a volcanic, Svengali-like voice teacher in the mysterious A Lesson by David Johnston, whose Conversations on Russian Literature was such a success at Blue Coyote two years ago. Though we never find out what the teacher and his companion, played by the excellent Sarah Ireland, mean to do with (or to?) the young singing hopeful in the next room, the wild, character-driven story is transfixing.

In Jacqueline Christy’s well-written and sensitively performed Romance, a parent-teacher conference carries an uncomfortable subtext, while in Matthew Freeman’s funny and absorbing The Metaphor, a hypermodern minister tries to help a young man with an old-school porn addiction, but the two operate mostly on different planes. (“Jesus is a metaphor, Rob. Where are we, Alabama?”)

In 300, the prolific Adam Szymkowicz humorously tackles the question of those 300 vaginas, putting a young couple through the emotional paces of revealing their surprising sexual pasts. Plato’s Retreat by David Foley, author of last fall’s solid Nance O’Neil, has the best costumes and a promising concept, but fizzles into confusion in the execution, as does Cheri Magid’s essay on voyeurism, Camera Four.

The evening closes with Mac Rogers’ winning, if slight, vignette about a couple who with difficulty overcome their obsession with their website to refresh their connection in the meat world. Its title, Date Night at Skintastic Dot Com, sums up the question posed by Blue Coyote’s whole enterprise: can the traditional and essential elements of our social natures survive intact in the age of online social networking? Rogers’ answer is a cautious yes, a pleasingly positive coda to a worthwhile evening of diverse talent and grey-cell tickling.

Standards of Decency 3: 300 Vaginas Before Breakfast runs through June 18 at the Access Theater (380 Broadway, two blocks below Canal, just north of White Street). For tickets please visit Smarttix or call 212-868-4444.

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About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is an Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. He writes the blog Park Odyssey, for which he is visiting and blogging every park in New York City—over a thousand of them. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. By night he's a working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.