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7 Blowjobs

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7 Blowjobs, Hi-Volt Theatre Company, at Stage Left Theatre. Most satire doesn't age well; rare are the works like Joseph Andrews and Gulliver's Travels that outlive their time. Mac Wellman's sharp-tongued response to the conservative assault on the NEA in the early 90s can't hold a candle to either of these novels, but it still packs a punch 12 years after its premiere.

For one thing, Wellman doesn't attack Jesse Helms specifically--he creates a fictional southern senator and office full of young staffers, then creates a story that makes them all look like fools. An incurable surrealist addicted to wordplay, Wellman also spices up his script with bizarre imagery and dialogue that loops back on itself. These unusual comic techniques transform the play from a mere yukfest to a meditation on reality and the ability of those in power to shape how we perceive it.

Too bad director Chris Mathews and his ensemble are able to release only half the material's comic energy. The actors get the broad outlines right: Brian McCartney is a hoot as the blustering senator, and Eric Roach (though sometimes over-the-top) clearly understands the pompous, money-mad televangelist he plays. Neither actor, however, consistently conveys that Wellman is doing more than just exploiting these stereotypes for laughs. In fact, no one seems particularly comfortable with the eccentric side of the playwright's wit. But if 7 Blowjobs were just a Second City-style comedy sketch, it would have been retired long before Helms.

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