Giant Box of Porn (Capital Fringe)

by John Stoltenberg

(This review was written for DCMetroTheaterArts and is reprinted here.)

Giant Box of Porn opened in the big Warehouse black box before a standing-room-only audience Saturday, and once the show got going I knew why: This humdinger is going to be a hot ticket not only at this year’s Capital Fringe but at any major professional theater-producing company that is smart enough to snatch it. Because Giant Box of Porn is one of the funniest, freshest, and truthiest new comedies ever to pop up in recent memory in DC.

A young married couple in their late twenties—Ron (Grant Cloyd), a laid-back architect, and Kate (Anna Jackson), a hyper-driven broker—are on the cusp of conceiving their first child. They’ve talked it through tactically, they’re about to embark on an island vacation to prompt it, they’ve planned a move to a bigger apartment, and they’re all ready and set to go. Except they’re not. Not really. Because, as it turns out, these yuppies are having heebie-jeebies about becoming mommy and daddy.

That’s a really recognizable contemporary relationship crisis, one that not a few writers have assayed onstage, on film, and in print. But Playwright Patrick Flynn has got a take that’s so original and observant, it blows the lid off this  millennial dilemma, makes it hilarious and touching fun, and hits revelatory new nerves. Flynn’s brilliant entree to this underlying angst is the eponymous box of porn, a cardboard container of XXX VHS tapes, which shows up one day in Ron and Kate’s apartment.

Ron’s impulse is to inventory the stuff, methodically. Kate’s is to freak out. Bookending their uproarious ensuing blowup are two characters who function as comic foils. Vanessa (Morganne Davies) is Kate’s hippie-dippy sister, married with three kids to a man whose extramarital flings she’s made inner holistic peace with for the sake of family cohesion. To Vanessa the porn’s no prob, and Kate should just chill. Sherlock (Will Hayes) is Ron’s friend and a randy bachelor pick-up artist whose own apartment in a messy man cave. To Sherlock the porn is an opportunity to fap, and all Ron needs to make it happen is a VCR.

The jokes come fast and the laughter is convulsive. One example of Flynn’s wonderfully character-driven humor happens early on when Ron and Kate are trying to figure out how the giant box of porn got there and why.  Kate decides to try looking online. But all the search terms she comes up with, starting with “giant box of porn,” return exactly the opposite kind of results she wanted. The look of appalled astonishment on Jackson’s face in the process is priceless. Their pressing problem, Kate realizes as the laughter mounts, is “not Googleable.”

Near the end things get more serious. How the box of porn got there and why is finally revealed. Vanessa and Sherlock’s drop-in visits are done. Kate and Ron are alone together to confront the conflict between what Kate wants in their relationship and what Ron is afraid of. The unexpected conclusion is both stark and heartbreaking—and what began as preposterous as Ionesco becomes as for-real as Ibsen.

Flynn’s tight script is as polished as they come. For the audio simulation of the character’s porn watching, Sound Designer Kenny Neal gives good aural sex. And Director Maureen Monterubio’s sure hand is evident in each stroke of staging, each dialog parry and thrust, each new deep delight. The acting is uniformly tip-top, but special mention must be made of Anna Jackson’s remarkable performance. Sheerly on the basis of it, Jackson is surely one of the finest comic actors on the DC theater scene.

Giant Box of Porn contains more surprises and satisfactions than you can possibly imagine or I can possibly say. See it now while you can. Next time it’s on the boards could be Broadway.

Running Time: About one hour and 20 minutes, with no intermission.

Giant Box of Porn plays through June 27, 2014, at The Warehouse, 645 New York Ave NW (on New York Ave NW between 6th St NW and 7th St NW), in Washington, DC. For performance information and to purchase tickets, go to their Capital Fringe page.

LINK
2014 Capital Fringe Show Preview: ‘Giant Box of Porn’ by Patrick Flynn.

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