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September 10, 2008

Finnigan gets dirty, sexy in retro season opener

(Finnigan Productions presents “dirty sexy derby play,” written and directed by Brian Walker. Continues through Sept. 13 in the MeX Theater at the Kentucky Center. For tickets, call 584-7777 or visit kentuckycenter.org/ticketing.) 

Photo Courtesy of Finnigan Productions: The cast of Finnigan Productions’ “dirty sexy derby play” get along swimmingly.
Photo Courtesy of Finnigan Productions: The cast of Finnigan Productions’ “dirty sexy derby play” get along swimmingly.

Orgies and wife-swapping are enjoying a retro renaissance these days, from CBS’ primetime soap “Swingtown” to suburban sex clubs. Finnigan Productions opens its fifth season with a bang, staging a rollback to the swinging ’70s with “dirty sexy derby play,” written and directed by company artistic director Brian Walker. 

True to Finnigan’s mission, Walker seems committed to the cause of shocking his audience out of complacency. “dirty sexy derby play,” which opens with a scene of hate-fueled oral sex, is “The Ice Storm” by way of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” with a touch of those sex-toy parties your girlfriends kept dragging you to a few years ago. 

It’s Derby Day in Louisville, 1974. Fiery Vanessa and cocky Carl (Leah Roberts and Andy Pyle, with a terrific mustache) are having some friends over, but this is no ordinary Derby party. To take their guests’ minds off the devastation of the April tornadoes, they’re hosting a key party, and some are more excited by the partner-swap than others. Vanessa and Carl have one of those dramatic love/hate relationships, equal parts “fuck me!” and “fuck you!” But Carl is cheating on Vanessa with ice queen Francine (Delilah Smyth), and while Carl and Francine think the key party is their chance to flaunt their affair, Vanessa has other games in mind. 

The guests arrive, and we’re introduced to Carl’s pervy co-worker Tim (Paul Reynolds) and his demure wife Lana (Kelly Kapp), who lost their home in the previous month’s storm. Then Francine shows up with her closeted husband Victor, who comes out to the audience immediately. As Roberts announces in the first scene, “this is one of those plays where the actors acknowledge they’re in a play,” and much of the characters’ histories and motivations are revealed through broken fourth-wall monologues. It’s not a new technique, and it feels unnecessary and forced in this play — dialogue and action render the revelatory monologues redundant more often than not. Walker’s a gifted and spirited playwright, but he should give his audience more credit and not spell everything out for us. It kills the tension — both dramatic and sexual. 

When Carl’s redneck cousins arrive, the party is complete and the games begin. Walker and Sarah East steal the show as Dennis and Theresa, the yokel relations from hell (or Okolona?) whose earthy exuberance both embarrasses and delights the more upscale guests. East is hilarious and totally believable as the wide-eyed, dirty-talking drunk girl (there’s one at every Derby party), and Walker hits every note perfectly as the criminal cousin you wish would paddle back to the shallow end of the family’s gene pool.

Throughout the show, we’re treated to inside jokes and period touches, like smirking comments about Bardstown Road New Age stores, cracks on Indiana, Cherokee Park-gay-sex-in-the-woods anecdotes and dirty phone calls in the age before caller ID and Star 69. But in true millennial fashion, when it comes to actual sex, there’s way more talk than action.

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