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February 16, 2010

When The Ring and Monty Python collide: The Greatest Porno, EVER!!

Sex and comedy have more in common than their mutual appeal to the masses: Both require a certain finesse to be executed effectively. When the two collide, the results can be that much better...or that much worse. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, the two meet head-on in The Greatest Porno, EVER!!, returning to the Gorilla Tango Theater after a run this past November.

Porno is the perverted brainchild of the Shoelace Academy, a group of students from Second City’s Training Center. The play unfolds in a series of skits loosely organized around the destructive wake of a sex tape as it circulates through a community of friends. The titular porno is described as an X-rated cross between the video from The Ring and Monty Python’s “Funniest Joke in the World.” Gaining popularity by word of mouth, the DVD has lethal effects on lonely teenagers, seasoned detectives, and even a hapless housecat.

While about half the show’s skits follow the story of the sex tape, the rest are stand-alone scenes of sexual comedy, with subject matter that ranges from using the childhood game of “telephone” as a means to deliver bad news about STDs, to longer musical numbers about the joys of being a peep show booth janitor, to something called “giant porn.” To their credit, the writer/actors never descend to the level of the truly lewd or disgusting—all is kept well within the range of a bawdy R-rated movie.

Despite the rather stimulating nature of the subject material, some sketches manage to feel boring, tired, or both. One-shot gags are stretched to the breaking point—sure, it’s amusing to point out that watching Paula Deen douse everything in butter is akin to watching porn, but does it really deserve a full two minutes?

On the whole, the actors seem enthusiastic about the subject matter, but occasional drops in onstage momentum call attention to bits that may have worked better in theory than in practice. For instance, the aforementioned musical scene lacks the commitment and polish to attain the level of gross-out Broadway parody to which it aspires.

Fortunately, strong performances by Patrick De Nicola as Tony—the cop hell-bent on getting to the bottom of the deadly DVD—and Jessie Stegner as Miranda—Tony’s Cosmo-reading wife desperate to put the spark back in their marriage—buoy the show with their timing and excellent comedic energy. Especially hilarious are Tony and Miranda’s middle-aged attempts to break their marital dry spell by trying to emulate the “carnal gymnastics” of the considerably more limber stars of the porno. Their standout performances in the narrative of the madcap search for the illicit video make the rest of Porno feel like filler, but the show’s zippy hour-long running time prevents any significant dragging.

The snappy pacing and quick scene changes, along with the pre-show handouts of free anatomically correct sweet treats by the cast, create an overall atmosphere that feels like a good round of dirty charades with a particularly funny group of friends. Although uneven at times, The Greatest Porno, EVER!! is an enjoyable dose of good (though not always clean) fun.

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