By Charles Lam
By LP HASTINGS
By Gustavo Arellano
By Gustavo Arellano
By LP HASTINGS
By Dave Barton
By LP Hastings
Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical may not feature any graphic sex scenes or nudity, but it’s very much like a porno in one respect: It’s ridiculously stupid—sloppy, tacky, grotesquely exaggerated and focused on a group of characters with the collective IQ of the gang from Archie Comics carrying an extra 23rd chromosome.
But, Lord, is it funny.
An intentionally self-conscious 75-minute spoof of the legendary 1978 porno Debbie Does Dallas, the musical, like the film, is about high-school cheerleaders who whore themselves out to raise money for their captain to fly to Dallas to join the professional squad of the Texas Cowgirls.
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And while the sex on display is tamer than frustratingly edited Skinemax, there is plenty of it, from men blowing each other to a five-girl orgy in a steam room. But it’s all conveyed in such a sugary, harmless way that even the sight of one cheerleader burying her face in the crotch of another comes off as innocent.
The musical, which debuted off-Broadway in 2001, adheres closely to the film’s plot (and, yes, there is a plot, at least according to imdb.com’s synopsis): Debbie (a spunky, talented Sarah Weismer) tries out for a professional cheerleading squad and makes the cut. But she has to raise the money to fly to Texas in two weeks. She and four of her fellow cheerleaders, none of whom has ever held a job and apparently lack any skill but effervescence, decide to start a business called Teen Services, in hopes of being hired by local merchants.
Those merchants, being men with a little bit of surplus cash, immediately figure Teen Services is a euphemism for sex and, after one offers Debbie $10 to look at her breasts, it’s only a matter of time before the girls realize they have something far more desirable to offer than stocking shelves or counting candles.
There is an attempt by adaptor Erica Schmidt to convey some kind of lesson: Near the play’s climax (heh-heh), as Debbie ponders the critical decision to give her employer a “touchdown,” she breaks character and walks off the stage. Another cast member (the always-engaging Nick McGee) stops her and asks what’s wrong. Weismer, now playing herself, says she can’t go through it with because the show is supposed to be about how the tiny compromises we make in order to achieve something wind up creating huge consequences. But after she’s told that her performance will make her a star, Weismer hops back onstage and the die is cast.
In that context, then, the show can be viewed as dealing with ambition and asking at what price one’s dreams are worth selling out for.
But, really, it’s just an excuse to portray a bunch of brain-dead high-school students—they’re all 18, so it’s legal, as one character says—simulating all kinds of raunchy sexual behavior, from masturbating with candles and fellating bananas to daisy chains and femdom spankings.
Director Stephen Reifenstein knows the only way to make a show like this work, much like any self-respecting porno, is to ram it down the audience’s throat. He focuses more on amped-up pace and broad characterizations than production values and has apparently green-lighted his highly spirited cast to embrace the most outrageous choices.
And it all works. While there are plenty of stuffy stick-in-the-butt types who will no doubt cringe at the sight of an actress playing a cute teen straddling an enormous green candle, they’re probably too busy reveling in the Republican landslide of 2010 to pay much attention to a show like this anyway. For the rest of us, it’s guilty pleasure at its naughtiest.
And, in a very odd way, Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical actually makes a point, or at least it could start a debate—and it has nothing to do with Weismer’s aforementioned, half-hearted, tacked-on moral of the story. Much like the question over whether porn objectifies or empowers women, it offers fertile ground for similar intellectual fodder. Before they resort to the world’s oldest profession, our five bubbly cheerleaders are economically disadvantaged young adults with no real job skills or futures. Their lives revolve around cheering and dating their boyfriends. Through peddling their asses for cash, they earn a lot of green and awaken sexually.
The flip side is they only do so when older men see them as objects to satisfy their lust. But whether objectified victims or agents of their own empowerment, the girls seem to thoroughly enjoy everything they’re doing—and the creepy older dudes aren’t complaining.
In the world of Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical,just like in the world of Mark Ravenhill’s Shopping and Fucking—currently being produced a few blocks north of the Maverick at the Monkey Wrench Collective—sex is an absolute cash-based transaction and commodity. The difference is that, in the musical, no one is hurt, abused, demeaned or wronged in any more serious way than a high-school romance ending. It may not be pornography as a morality tale, but it’s certainly a fairy tale—and more fun than a barrelful of strippers.