Review: “Gay. Porn. Mafia” at the Downtown Urban Arts Festival

Anthony J. Piccione

  • New York Theatre Critic

Yes, you read that correctly. The title of the show that I’m reviewed this past weekend is “Gay. Porn. Mafia.” It’s the first of a number of one-night only theatrical events over the next two weeks (in addition to a few short films) that I’ve been invited to review at the Downtown Urban Arts Festival. Immediately after receiving my review invite, I wondered what I would be in for at this show, and exactly what connection the plot itself would have to its amusing and provocative title.

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As it turns out, the play is actually a series of shorts - all written by playwright Joe Gulla, and directed by Brian Rardin – that all revolve around various themes, among them being gay, pornography, and mafias. (What more did you expect me to write here?) It’s certainly a nice concept, or at least an intriguing title, and guarantees at least the potential for decent entertainment value. However, despite the overall concept, the individual plays are more of a mixed bag, consisting of some which are quite a riot, and others which may have been in greater need of further development.

It started weak with Gayfever, a comedy about a man being diagnosed as allergic to gay people. Not as in homophobic, but as literally being unable to be around them, anymore than someone with a peanut butter allergy could be around peanut butter. As I watched, I couldn’t help but think this was one of those ideas that might have sounded funny in theory to the playwright, but once actually written, didn’t have the hoped for comedic value, or may have rubbed some people the wrong way.

Next up was Fall and Rise, which tells the story of a Christian pastor from America being washed ashore and forced to stay with a Jewish-Spanish woman to seek refuse. The play rotates from conversation to monologue, and I can’t help but wonder how much room there was to make this play even longer, and potentially develop it into a longer one-act, at the very least. It would have been interesting to see if that would have made this a stronger piece, as it’s a story that seemed to have room for further exploration.

The next two plays were the highlight of the night, though. First came Reel Wood, a hysterical comedy about a gay couple in California which makes a certain level of income by living downstairs in their basement, as the rest of their home is rented out to a porn company. Again, it does feel like it could have been just a bit longer, but perhaps that was just because I wanted more of such a funny skit.

However, the play that followed – Knockoff – was easily the best of the night, in large part thanks to a particularly outstanding performance from actress Emily Dinova. This play told the story of a receptionist at an art gallery who only has her job due to family connections, rather than any genuine appreciation for art, but is engaged to an artist. Over the course of the play, as she learns more about art history, she realizes what some of the downsides might be of dating an artist, and her reaction, well…let’s just say it isn’t pretty.

However, then the show had to end on a somewhat underwhelming note with Sleeping with the Fish, which tells the story of a mafia boss involved in a secret gay relationship, which is discussed during the play at dawn on the nearly empty Staten Island ferry. Again, the basic premise of the play sounds nice, but it left more to be desired, both in terms of plot and in terms of comedic value, something which this play was clearly aiming toward, at least to some extent.

I’m not sure what exactly the future may have in store for any of these particular pieces, or to what extend Mr. Gulla is even interested in pushing them forward. However, while some are stronger than others, I certainly left the theater thinking that as mildly entertaining as the evening may have been, there was room for improvement, in all five plays. Even if there were a few laughs that I got out of this event, it would have been nice to have seen a more polished set of plays, as they left me wondering what more potential there was for them.

“Gay. Porn. Mafia” ran for one night only at the Downtown Urban Arts Festival on April 14th. For more information on upcoming events at this festival, please visit www.duafnyc.com.