Theater Review - Gimme an ‘x’

Dad’s does Debbie Does Dallas

Pull the explicit antics out of pornography, and what are you left with? Flaccid dialogue, rigid acting and locations that look suspi-ciously like fleabag motel rooms. It’s like a submarine sandwich without the meat. A soccer game without the balls. A Hooters restaurant without the ... spicy chicken wings.

Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical takes the famed 1978 skin flick out of the grind house and puts it onstage. Adapter Erica Schmidt and composer Andrew Sherman turn Debbie’s low-aerobic workout film into a live theatrical tease, keeping the bare bodies and money shots just out of sight. But the musical Debbie shows surprising fidelity to the original’s insipid, moral sinkhole of a story, which simply links one naughty pastime to another.

Directed by Kate Warner, the Dad’s Garage production turns out to be more fun in concept than consummation. You can detect the titillation in the adapters, the performers and the audience in the idea of Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical, and that excitement gives the show a definite lift. But Dad’s’ Debbie wavers between spoofing an inherently empty “art form” and being genuinely empty itself.

Debbie Benton (Kristie Krabe) captains her high school football cheerleading squad and dreams of one day being a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. One fateful day she receives her letter of acceptance, but her excitement deflates when she learns that the Cowboys don’t provide money for transportation or lodging, giving her just two weeks to raise it herself.

For guidance, she turns to her bosom companions, the fellow cheerleaders: slutty Lisa (Katy Carkuff), dumb-blonde Roberta (Jennifer Caldwell), hair-flipping, Valley-Girl-talking Donna (Mary Kraft) and book-smart Tammy (played with girlish enthusiasm by Tim Stoltenberg). The squad realizes that they have to get, like, jobs to raise money for Debbie, so they start a business with the ambiguously sultry name “Teen Services.”

Debbie chafes at earning the minimum wage after school until Mr. Greenfelt (Doyle Reynolds), her nervous boss at a sporting goods store, offers her $10 to see her breasts. Reynolds makes an art of awkwardness, conveying both Mr. Greenfelt’s sexual discomfort and the bad acting of porno films. In the ensuing number “10 Dollars Closer,” Debbie gets nearer to her goal by letting Mr. Greenfelt look, then touch, and so on.

Debbie would play merely like a woman’s ethical downfall, akin to Moll Flanders, were it not for Krabe’s girl-next-door perkiness. She conveys both a carnal innocence and a get-up-and-go ambition that keeps Debbie’s increasingly dirty deeds from besmirching her. As she contemplates giving up her virginity to be a Dallas Cowgirl, Debbie satirizes the American dream.

The other cheerleaders stoop to conquer the horny male townsfolk, but Schmidt’s dialogue and comic situations seldom sparkle. Debbie comes up with some funny running jokes — Donna develops a taste for spanking, Tammy proves more attracted to her fellow cheerleaders than the opposite sex — without taking them all the way.

Except for a gag involving a dropped towel, Debbie only hints at skin and lewd activities. Instead, the show plays to audience expectations by being constantly suggestive. Whenever the girls do their stretching exercises, they involve more spreading and bouncing than you’d think strictly necessary. A couple of amusing moments lampoon teenage sexual mores: During a bout of simulated fellatio in the library (a banana serves as understudy to a leading part), Donna’s boyfriend alternates between ecstatic groans and interjected instructions: “No, not that way.”

Debbie’s musical numbers are the show’s disappointing turnoffs. Unlikely material can inspire clever lyrics and catchy melodies, but Debbie’s songs prove mediocre and sparse. Debbie’s boyfriend, Tim (Joey Ellington), riffs amusingly on the cliche of 1970s rock in “I Wanna Do Debbie,” while the jazzy “Dildo Rag” extols the benefits of working in a candle store. Otherwise, the music falls flat and Lisa’s country-style ballad, “God Must Love a Fool,” feels like padding in a 90-minute show. Debbie’s best choreography occurs in the slow-motion opening scene and the girls’ synchronized routine when they try to think.

Dan Triandiflou plays a lock-jawed preppy, a ‘roid-rage athlete, and the leering, belly-scratching Señor Bradley, and hilariously nails each one (so to speak). Otherwise, the ensemble seems at a loss to flesh out such one-dimensional characters.

Earlier this year, Synchronicity Performance Group’s Be Aggressive showed fascination with superficial cheerleaders as both impressionable human beings and American archetypes. Debbie certainly seizes its audience’s attention, but never has much to say. It doesn’t measure up to richly kitschy musicals like Bat Boy, but, at best, offers a kind of burlesque show for undemanding, media-savvy spectators.

Plus, it makes the most of its sporty actresses. They do splits, they help each other undress, they kiss each other in gratitude, they sigh and coo and moan and ...

Excuse me, I need a cold shower.