This review of Pucker Up & Blow at The Players Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
Pucker Up & Blow
Written by Daniel Reitz
Directed by Paul Schnee
The Players Theatre
115 MacDougal Street
New York, New York 10012
What if you were not particularly talented or good-looking and had the opportunity to star in a Broadway show so long as you were willing to play a retarded, 16-year-old who appears to be anally raped on stage by a pedophile who your white-supremacist brother sold you to for $100,000.00 so he could buy guns to kill black people? ("selling my own brother's ass for white mankind") Would you take the part? Keep in mind you have no prior professional credits on your actor's resume except for having appeared in children's theater ("My Tigger was quite definitive"; "My Velveteen Rabbit earned me acclaim"). You have no agent and no manager. You got lucky because the playwright/director's wife saw you at a Samuel French Festival and recommended you to her husband. What would you do? Can you turn down such an opportunity even though it will require full-frontal nudity? What about your parents, younger sister and 82-year-old grandmother? When they come to the opening, how will they handle seeing you on stage naked having your chest hair fondled prior to you letting someone enter you through the back door? The temptation to accept the role would be very strong but your principles, if you have any, might leave you questioning whether taking the part would be right or wrong. What should you do when faced with such a dilemma? Well, Jiminy Cricket suggested one possibility. When speaking to Pinocchio, he said, "When you get in trouble and you don't know right from wrong. Give a little whistle! Give a little whistle! When you meet temptation and the urge is very strong. Give a little whistle! Give a little whistle! Not just a little squeak, pucker up and blow!" David, the lead character in Pucker Up & Blow, faces the situation I have described. In this play within a play, David is given the opportunity to join the cast by Robert Forsythe, an African-American, who has obtained fame as New York's "most inflammatory" playwright infamous for productions laced with "gratuitous nudity" and "simulated sex of all kinds." Intentional or not, Daniel Reitz's Forsythe character reminds me of playwright Thomas Bradshaw, who stages outrageous behavior on the New York stage, including depictions of child rape, racially charged sex, pornography, and modern day slavery.
We learn that this is not Robert Forsythe's first play. He recently had success with his controversial Rosa Parks Is A Nigger Cunt. It was about a teenage black girl who denied slavery ever existed and blew up a Civil Rights Museum (of course it doesn't make any sense but Forsythe freely admits he is "an artless, context-free writer"). In that play, an interracial couple has sex on Rosa Park's grave, and during the sex scene, the woman cries out to her black partner, "fill me good, you orangutan." Daniel Reitz's fictitious playwright/director is an African-American. Who else but a Black Playwright could get away with writing about this subject matter? Had he been white, instead of being celebrated by the likes of Tyler Perry, his shows would have been closed and universally condemned. Exposing the double-standard, Daniel Reitz makes an important point about political correctness "gone mad" in a delightfully "politically incorrect manner" in his latest show Pucker Up & Blow. It is an extremely well-written, thought-provoking play that is absolutely hilarious at times. I was very impressed with this show that is a part of the 2016 New York International Fringe Festival.
Will Dagger does a fine job playing David, the young actor cast for this challenging part. He portrays him as a whiny, little bitch who never fully embraces the part he agreed to play. He is jealous and insecure as he should be because he does look "a little down-syndromey." When his "girlfriend" cheats on him, he gets drunk and tries to hit her latest boyfriend, who happens to be his co-star in the play. He is out of his league, both before and after the show opens. At least Steve Stifler (The Stifmeister) of the American Pie movies knew what he needed to do and then did it in order to achieve his goal (i.e. to see two women making out). David continues to regret having taken the part right up to opening night. This actor, like all actors, can turn down any part they are uncomfortable with. However, if they accept the part, even if it includes nudity and simulated lewd sex acts, they owe it to their co-stars to fully commit to the role without hesitation. Anything less is doing a disservice to everyone. I credit Daniel Reitz, the playwright, for exposing that the "exploitation of actors" by asking them to engage in "degrading acts" is something that cannot and does not take place. Actors, as fully functioning, intelligent adults, decide what parts they will take and what parts they will turn down. The collaboration of like-minded playwrights, producers, directors, and actors will bring about a final product that will stand or fall on its own merit. Those who choose not to be a part of any particular production will find work elsewhere.
Alex Emanuel, a very talented actor, is "creepily effective" as Lenny, the pedophile. Lenny trains David by offering him double-stuffed Oreo cookies. He calls him his "tasty little tard." Shane Allen is very attractive and believable as Micah, the Sex Choreographer and Tantric Massage Therapist who is charged with making the sex scenes realistic. However, Daniel Reitz failed to allow those scenes to reach their full potential. So much more could have been done with them. I am imagining in my mind how hilarious they could have been especially, if as promised, Micah was in there naked with them at all times while he was walking them through the choreographed simulated sex acts. Too much time was spent reading the script. Sydni Beaudoin was "alluring" as Melora, David's manipulative, lying girlfriend. Ms. Beaudoin successfully portrayed her as the conniving, ambitious, back-stabbing cheater she was supposed to be. Her funniest line was when she planned to see David on stage for the first time and said, "Should I bring my binoculars - or can you project?" Jeremy Burnett was Kevin, the actor who was formally a very popular rap star known as Kryptonite. Mr. Burnett did a fine job as the rich "pussy hound" destined to share some of his "black magic" with the ladies. Asa James was aloof and self-confident as Robert Forsythe, the fictitious playwright, who knew what he wanted from his actors but barely found the time to direct, given his other obligations as a fundraiser and promoter. When David finally demanded to know how expressive Robert Forsythe wanted him to be during the "love-making scenes," he reminded David his character is "retarded, not brain dead!" When an aggressive female reporter started asking him about the "one-dimensional characters" and "lack of subtext" in his plays, he cuts her off and says, "Are you a lesbian? I think you are. I like lesbians - they're so challenging." Asa James handled all his scenes with aplomb and was the anchor who held this play together.
Daniel Reitz is a playwright you should keep your eye on. He shows extraordinary promise and is willing to tackle subjects others wouldn't think of touching. I highly recommend Pucker Up & Blow. It takes you on a journey to the mountaintop and then shows you what is on the other side. In David's case, "it's an actor's life for me." There are two more shows, which you can see on Friday, August 19, 2016 at 4:30 p.m. and on Tuesday, August 23, 2016 at 2:00 p.m. at The Players Theatre. Tickets cost $18.00 and can be purchased at http://www.fringenyc.org/