Naples Daily News
December 2, 2008

Tea, with splash of blackmail and lump of adultery

By CHRIS SILK (Contact)

It might be a good idea to take a graze through a dictionary and peek at a thesaurus before taking in a performance of Theatre Conspiracy’s “Love Loves a Pornographer.” This is a charming little play — but do brush up on your vocabulary.

Jeff Goode’s hyper-literate love affair with words brushes up against every conventional — and unconventional — poetic, alliterative and semantic device in the English language, and probably invents a few besides. All the while, there’s a roomful of oh-so-charming, oh-so-scheming and oh-so-deliciously funny characters engaged in a battle of wits that will make heads spin, grown men duel and servants swoon. Oh, to be British, to drink tea and talk of honor and Empire and who exactly is sleeping with the vicar’s wife!

“Pornographer” sends up the customs of the English nobility in the best traditions of Noel Coward or Oscar Wilde. “Pornographer” premiered to acclaim a year ago at Circle X Theatre Company in Los Angeles and got an equally enthusiastic welcome in Houston in April. Although Theatre Conspiracy plays the show as more of a comedy than a farce, there’s plenty of laughter to go around.

The plot starts simply but grows more tangled by the syllable. The Lord Cyril Loveworthy (played ably and with a heaping helping of hubris by Bill Taylor) wants to blackmail his literary critic neighbor, the Rev. Miles Monger, into writing a glowing review of his latest book. Loveworthy needs the funds to pay for his daughter’s upcoming wedding.

Taylor, Theatre Conspiracy’s founder and longtime soul, anchors this production and proves the sun these planets orbit. His deadpan comic timing and snide haughtiness are the perfect caricature of British nobility — even if you think his character a poisonous old snake. Unfortunately, his onstage adversary, Rick Sebastian, is visibly overwhelmed by the sheer amount of verbiage he’s asked to deliver.

Sebastian has a handle on the Monger’s pomposity, but fails to land his lines in a way that take them from repeated outburst to outlandish. There’s one great line — “Money should never be earned, when it can be inherited” — that’s intended as a showstopper, and turns into a virtual throwaway. To be fair, his portion of the script alone must dwarf most novels; more performances may find him more comfortable in the role.

Meanwhile, the ladies are engaged in a verbal battle of their own — with the vaporish Millicent Monger (Nancy Antonio) prodding the tart-tongued Lady Lillian Loveworthy (Stephanie Davis) over past slights. Davis, perhaps better known as a newspaper columnist (known as the Downtown Diva), reveals a shocking amount of bosom and a viper’s wit as she slings bon-mots around the parlor. Her diary — in which she has detailed her extra-marital exploits — becomes a particular source of amusement, especially when it is revealed that her husband has been using it as “inspiration” for his heretofore unknown career authoring bodice-rippers.

Into all this polite but petty chaos descends the Loveworthy’s daughter, Emily (Rachael Endrizzi), with her coonskin-clad fiancé in tow. She promised her parents an earl and they’ve got one — Earl Kant (Jesse St. Louis), uncouth American, shopkeeper, tattooist and purveyor of erotic fiction.

Yet, despite all the effort spent in setting up the clash of cultures and weaving the web of secrets and lies, the production still comes off feeling a tiny bit flat — as though everyone on stage is a half-step slow.

Director Karen Goldberg may be afraid to step on Taylor’s toes, but it is still her duty pick a direction for the show — either pure character or caricature — and steer the cast from playing the script as simply broad comedy. It’s not that words aren’t delivered well. They are; the theater was filled with laughter. Still, farce is as much about flair, timing and over-the-top delivery as it is about the writing — yet only Davis, Taylor and Jordan Ray Wilson (disdainful butler Fennimore) — seem committed to their performances.

The over-acting virtually required to make farce a really rousing success that has people rolling in the aisles and doing imitations on the car ride home (think “Monty Python” or “Benny Hill”) just isn’t there.

All issues aside, the show is quite fun to watch. The script is literary and literate, and the cast serves up the jokes with some effort at panache. Additionally, the effort spent transforming Theatre Conspiracy’s tiny stage into the parlor of an English manor with just a curtain, some string and paintings is impressive, as are Diana Waldier’s costumes; both look expensive and were accomplished on a minuscule budget.


Listen for the “illicit elations” line halfway through Act Two. It’s one of the most beautifully constructed sentences in the English language. If you don’t agree, e-mail me at