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The music playing as you enter the DCAC’s theater sets the perfect tone for the production to follow: Berlin’s “Sex” and Color Me Badd’s “I Wanna Sex You Up” will have you twitching your ass in your seat even as you feel kinda silly doing so. Eating Raoul, the 1992 musical based on Paul Bartel’s 1982 sex ‘n’ death comedy film, goes further retro than the pre-show soundtrack, with a late-’60s setting, but as staged by the Landless Theatre Company, the play feels more Me Generation, with supersize gold chains, a Soul Train-load of synthetic fabrics, and an apartment building full of enough swingin’ folks to make the Ropers go condo. Landless’ peppy, Up With Perverse People ensemble introduces the central couple, Paul and Mary Bland: “Their marriage is based on mutual trust/They only hug and kiss, ’cause they’re disgusted by lust.” The squeaky-clean Blands—David Norman as Paul via Gale Gordon, minus the simper and plus a bow tie, and Jeanine Collins as Mary, with a self-righteous Carol Brady voice and an ex-cheerleader twinkle in her eyes—are trapped in an L.A. full of moral degenerates (who sing “We’re kissin’/We’re huggin’/We’re boozin’/We’re druggin’). Their jobs are no better: Paul’s boss fires him, and every man Mary meets tries to get nasty with her. Safe in their apartment, they dream of starting a restaurant in the country (each musical reverie cued by an offstage ting). But soon the building’s swingers start invading the Bland home—”They’re exactly the kind of people we should refuse to serve in our restaurant,” pouts Mary, with a bit of macabre foreshadowing—and the Blands hatch a plan to clean up the city and collect the down payment for their dream eatery. Soon, though, housebreaker/
handyman/would-be pop star Raoul (Andrew Lloyd Baughman) finds out about their scheme and gets a piece of the action—in more ways than one. With minimal sets (but a bounty of costumes) and a mere nine-person ensemble, Landless, under director Jessica Poduska, works heroically at its little entertainment, and the payoff is immense. The cast sings well enough for Arena Stage (which would undoubtedly find a way to screw up this grungy little delight if it ever got its manicured hands on it). The ensemble players, many of whom die multiple onstage deaths, put in a heroic effort, particularly Josselyn Tatiana Essey as Donna the Dominatrix and Kevin Sockwell as Ginger, the play’s most poignant pervert. On the sex-o-meter, Baughman’s Raoul, a role originally played by Adrian Zmed, registers somewhere between CHiPs-era Erik Estrada and One Day at a Time’s Schneider, with his Tony Orlando ‘Fro, his flaccid mustache, and his big ol’ tool belt. Ambitious, lubricious, and delicious, Eating Raoul is the perfect after-dinner treat for a night out in Adams Morgan. —Pamela Murray Winters