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Remaining Performances (tickets available here):
Saturday, July 18 at 8:00 p.m.
Sunday, July 19 at 5:45 p.m.
Saturday, July 25 at 4:15 p.m.
They Say: It is not my fault that God gave men penis and woman a vagina and put an unstoppable desire in men to put their penises into woman’s vaginas. Take that up with your God next time you go to Church.
Cassie’s Take: In the barbed (but never hard-hearted) Brothel, a pimp with a heart of gold realizes his only asset is an aging prostitute with a yellowing little black book and terrible Yelp reviews. He then attempts to hire a younger girl to lure beer-guzzling and “man-cave”-dwelling clients away from the other legal brothel one town over (it’s set in an oil-boom town in North Dakota).
Hal (Ned Read) is the jaded owner of a one-room brothel who has his request to hire another sex worker denied by a straight-laced health inspector (Adrian Iglesias), who says that each worker needs her own bedroom (Big Government, am I right)? Hal is faced with a tricky HR issue: He doesn’t want to throw out his longtime business partner, Valerie (Sally Roffman), a seasoned prostitute past her prime, but Hal can’t hire a new sex worker without installing a second floor or firing Valerie. With Val scaring away customers, Hal’s one-woman cathouse is going under until he convinces Val to hang up her stilettos and grab a Swiffer to stay on payroll.
With only a few props and a minimalist set, the play leans heavily on Hal and Val; luckily, they make for an appealing comic duo. A high-energy Roffman plays Val as a whisky-drinking, big-hearted Broad caked in foundation and gesturing lewdly to illustrate her stories. Hal sees himself as a Nice Guy™ who, despite claiming to have misgivings about selling sex, seriously considers pimping out his pregnant wife. Read is excellent as Hal: somehow both slimy and paternal, like a dad who volunteers a little too quickly to chaperone prom. At turns, he’s slithering into the bedroom to try out his new, young hire Su (an ebulliently Pimmie Juntranggur), then affectionately reassuring Val that she’s still got it. Even when Roffman occasionally tripped over the rapid-fire dialogue, both Read and Roffman could take this show on the road, sniping at each other affectionately over coffee.
There is an overabundance of groan-worthy puns at the beginning of the show (long and hard is used not once, but twice) and the script could have used another round of red ink (at one point, Hal sighs to Val “not this again,” and I found myself thinking the same thing). But Hal and Val are flesh-out characters who don’t backslide into caricatures.
Unfortunately, some of the other characters are not as fully realized, including an aggressively “sex positive” prostitute named Rosa (Lauren Patton) who blows (sorry) an interview for the “young girl” job posting by fingering Hal’s desk candy and tearing down Val as an unworldly, washed up hooker. Patton is appropriately vampy, but her dialogue is as over the top as her décollage (“I am the sun”) and the whole interlude verges on bizarre and a little sex negative (of course the only woman who claims to like sex is described as a “crazy bitch”).
Isa Seyran, the writer-director, claimed he wanted to explore some provocative questions, including why men visit brothels. The answer, according to Brothel, is “because of their genitals.” Next question. But by and large, Seyran doesn’t judge his characters (okay, I would argue Rosa was judged a little), and although some of Seyran’s messaging seems incoherent, when it comes to sex, so are humans. And this delightful cast of characters are oh-so human.
See it if: You feel conflicted about watching porn.
Skip it if: You’re not into foreplay. You are a grown man who refers to his dank apartment as a man-cave.
Photo courtesy of Isa Seyran