Porn + Showtunes: Why Has No One Thought of It Before???

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Alyse Alan Louis in The Civilians production of the new musical Pretty Filthy at Abron Arts Center.

“You only get seven-twenty an hour working the weekend shift at Hardees.” Might as well do porn.

There, in a nutshell, is the economic equation made by many who go into adult entertainment, as perkily presented by Becky, one of the characters in Pretty Filthy. This new musical by the theatre company, The Civilians, presented at Abron Arts Center through March 1st. Known for their interview-based theatre pieces that usually employ hefty doses of sociology, cynicism and singing, for this production The Civilians went over the hill and into the valley, the San Fernando Valley, that is, to interview the performers, agents, producers, camerapeople, sound techs and fluffers who feed our endlessly ravenous desire for smut.

Directed by Artistic Director Steve Cosson with music and lyrics by Michael Friedman and a book by Bess Wohl, Pretty Filthy is played in front of a proscenium set comprised of seven doors and lit in stripshow hues of purple and red. The eight actors who play all the characters are a game bunch, they seemed both relaxed and intensely committed as they sing, dance, disrobe to their skivvies, or simulate sex, winking at the same time. They vividly convey both the quirky narcissism and breezy nonchalance of their subjects, as they rationalize and revel in their chosen profession.

In the opening, the actors stand downstage in a row, a la A Chorus Line, and introduce themselves by name and porn name, (“Craven Morehead” for example). A single mom despairs when her son’s school learns of her career, a straight guy weighs going gay for pay,  a buxom talent agent instructs a new recruit in pouting and the correct posture when bent over a desk. The whole affair is put over by the converted perverted, with cheery American zest and boosterism, leaving the audience to discern whatever cracks underly the rosy picture.

Although more of a collage than a narrative, the central framing device follows Becky (Alyse Alan Louis) as she meets a casting agent, negotiates her do’s and don’ts with a nonplussed seasoned pro, encourages her sweet-faced boyfriend to get into the act and then goes out on her own after their break-up.

The script duly acknowledging the internet’s transformation of the porn industry from first-expensive-then-sticky videocassette to 24-hour live streaming websites. That helps underscore the essential profit-motive of the industry and its potential for chewing up those performers who have “shot out,” meaning played out their novelty as a new face by doing too many movies too fast or run out of variations like breast augmentation or going blond.

For all its smarts and sass, the zippy songs and satiric humor of Pretty Filthy somehow narrowly miss hitting something that feels core about the experience of making a living having sex in front of cameras. What The Civilians nail in this production is the relentless American-style optimism required of a public/private job that exposes us not as naked or perverse, but willing to show our faces.

Porn + Showtunes: Why Has No One Thought of It Before???