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Downtown Block Party: Gatz and The Deep Throat Sex Scandal

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Downtown Block Party: <em>Gatz</em> and <em>The Deep Throat Sex Scandal</em>

How do you want it: long and slow or hard and fast? Theatrically, the main drag of Lafayette Street from Astor Place to Bleecker Street gives you both options, as the long-awaited, six-and-a-half hour Elevator Repair Service production of Gatz plays a mere two blocks from pornmeister Jerry Douglas’s multimedia-laced, nudity-friendly retelling of The Deep Throat Sex Scandal. The latter goes down pretty easy, but the former is the longer-lasting, more satisfying encounter to be sure.

A business-attired office drone (Scott Shepherd) tries in vain to start up a computer at the opening of Gatz. He waits in vain for a tech person, goes through a drawer, then finds a used book. What results is the man reading aloud the entirety of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Yes, every one of the 180 pages. In John Collins’s occasionally wonky, often imaginative vision, the novel becomes a live conduit for a host of office denizens to drift in and out of (much like the partygoers at Jay Gatsby’s estate often did at his fancy parties). People come and go, and eventually some even take over the roles full-time, their physical traits often coinciding with Fitzgerald’s expertly detailed renderings of each. Elevator Repair Service even seems to have zeroed in on an oft-mentioned opinion of our faithful narrator Nick Carraway’s golf-pro girlfriend Jordan Baker (as played by Susie Sokol, she is, indeed, a Sapphic sister).

Conceptually, the workaday office theme eventually runs into a bit of a wall; however, it was exceedingly clever on their part to allow the length of the production to coincide with that of a basic work day—even including proper breaks, a la union jobs. The business pre-dinner break is more varied and lively, but truth be told, it’s the post-break evening stretch that’s eventually the more dramatically satisfying, possibly because the winking add-ons have waned and the novel begins to speak for itself. And its most thrilling coup de theatre is actually its simplest: When Shepherd, in a magnificent, almost shockingly subtle turn, finally puts the book down and recites the final remainder of Nick Carraway’s journey exclusively from memory, the locked connection between storyteller and audience reaches an apex of uncharted proportions.

Speaking of proportion, The Deep Throat Sex Scandal is the go-to show of the season for the raincoat crowd, which is letter-perfect for a show about the most famous porno of all time. Though much of this material was chronicled in the wan documentary Inside Deep Throat years back, apparently there’s still an appetite for the tale of how Gerard Damiano (John-Charles Kelly) transformed the most outlandish of premises (a woman’s clitoris…is in the back of her throat!) into a controversy-courting, multi-million grossing XXX smash, and how said blockbuster subsequently ruined the lives of the director and the poor souls who took on the lead roles: the furry, affable key grip-turned-stud Harry Reems (Malcolm Madera) and the sweetly unaware, fervently abused Linda Lovelace (Lori Gardner).

Director Douglas keeps things fairly light so as not to be too prurient, and at least until the preachy, dopey second act, The Deep Throat Sex Scandal is a fairly decent time. Madera, though about as far from Reems as could possibly be imagined (Hard Harry certainly did not have visible ab muscles; his ample body hair made damn sure of that), is a likable guide, and Gardner, also not quite a ringer, resists playing Lovelace as a flighty bimbo, nailing her eager, defenseless charm and winning over everyone involved. And solo performer Frank Blocker has a highly amusing courtroom aria as the prosecutor for the Deep Throat case in which the sex act of the film’s title gets a nice, extended verbal workout. But playwright David Bertolino eventually crams too much into the play’s second half, and his literal statement that we would not have South Park or—are you kidding me?—Brokeback Mountain, among other titles, without the landmark censorship case presented here is a naïve, laughable assumption that, well, blows. Up until that point, though, the play’s effect is something like actually watching a porno: It’s kind of funny, kind of clumsy, a little sad, minutely titillating, yet ultimately ends up in a rather familiar place.

Gatz is now playing at the Public Theater (425 Lafayette Street) in New York City and continues until November 28. Schedule: Tue ,Wed, Sat at 3pm, Sun at 2pm. Running time: 6 hours and 30 minutes, plus one 75-minute dinner break and two standard intermissions. The Deep Throat Sex Scandal is now playing at Bleecker Street Theatre (45 Bleecker Street) in New York City and is an open-ended run. Schedule: Tue – Fri at 8pm, Sat at 7:30pm and 11pm, Sun at 4pm and 7:30pm. Running time: 2 hours, one intermission.