Positively pornographic
Norm Foster's Skin Flick, in its world premiere at Neptune, is tender, affectionate comedy
By ELISSA BARNARD Entertainment Reporter | Theatre Review Sun. Jan 25 - 5:39 AM

Norm Foster is that rare playwright who can pen a sweet comedy about a couple making a porn movie.

Skin Flick, a world premiere coincidentally opening at Neptune Theatre the same weekend there is a sex convention in town, is a tender and affectionate comedy about four innocent people caught in the headlights of making an adult film. The laughs lie in their shock and discomfort as well as in the way Foster tells the story through the main character of Rollie. A charming, jolly man, he acts as an omnipotent narrator with asides about the art of writing and the playwright himself.

Only Rollie can see the audience and when he decrees there will be no swearing the other characters are startled to use expletives without sound - to great comic effect.

The day Rollie loses his job at a costume outlet, he brings a movie home for his wife Daphne to see so she can write a sample review for a job interview. It turns out the job's already been filled and the movie is a porn film. Rollie's best friend, a recently fired cameraman, Alex, tells her how lucrative porn films are (as does Neptune's playbill for Skin Flick), and Daphne decides to make one. A down-on-her-luck actress named Jill mistakenly arrives at their house, and she and Daphne, in their auditioning process, end up casting Alex's unusually shy bookie Byron.

While the Jill/Byron story is highly implausible, it is heartwarming, as is Foster's positive view of marriage and sex. The only sleazy note is Rollie's selfish, sarcastic and leering friend Alex (Gordon Gammie). He is a good counterpoint to the sweeter characters and represents the dark side of porn that never taints the others. Sometimes Skin Flick, highly contemporary in its middle-aged, early 21st century references, is too transparent and predictable. One laughs anyhow.

There are also some great passages of classic, comic writing, in particular a scene where Byron and Daphne talk at complete cross purposes when she mistakenly thinks he's auditioning.

The second act, in which the moralizing Byron is forced to connect with the sexually active but underconfident Jill, rockets along with excellent physical farce and one-liners.

Ginette Mohr glows like a high wattage lightbulb as the loopy but loveable Jill. Statuesque with a highly expressive and mobile face, she has great comic timing. Jamie Williams gives Byron his touching vulnerability and nobility. Gordon Gammie, with hair slicked back and dressed in black, defines Alex as a sleazy, cringe-worthy loner in a performance that would be hard to duplicate. Halifax actor Martha Irving and David Nairn, who is artistic director of Ontario's Theatre Orangeville, both give consummate, nuanced performances as Daphne and Rollie, capturing their individual's perspective and connecting well as a couple.
Jamie Williams and Ginette Mohr in the Neptune Theatre production of Skin Flick  

Working with a highly experienced cast, well-versed in Foster, veteran director Walter Learning has a keen eye for pacing and punch lines. D'Arcy Morris Poultney's set is an amazingly elaborate first floor of a well-appointed, old house, all in browns and soft golds, with a view into a dining room, an alcove, a stairwell, plush furniture and art on the walls. Poultney also designed the costumes, and his choice of pale greens for Daphne and later pastels for Jill stands out. Leigh Ann Vardy's lighting is wonderfully crisp.

Foster, a humanist who writes about recognizable, ordinary people in extraordinary situations, often adds a layer of heartache beneath the comedy; Skin Flick is just going for laughs, he said in an interview, and he even pokes fun at himself. When Rollie tries to add a message to the porn, it gets cut.

For ultralight entertainment, finely produced, Skin Flick is an antidote to the dark side of life.

It runs at Neptune Theatre to Feb. 15.