Debbie Does Dallas is now a musical, and you have to wonder what cultural vacuum is being filled by its existence. How shocking can an off-Broadway musical about a pornographic film possibly be? Not very, considering porn’s steady creep into the culture at large. When junior high school girls wear Porn Star T-shirts, triple-X starlets and swinging dicks like Jenna Jameson and Ron Jeremy have achieved mainstream Hollywood Squares-ish celebrity status; and Boogie Nights, Auto Focus, and six billion sitcom jokes have already been chalked up, it’s hard to get too riled about a porno finally penetrating the forever-late-to-the-party American stage.
Thus Debbie Does Dallas, which made its debut at the Jane Street Theatre on October 29, feels about as edgy as Cats. Formerly grungy and dangerous, porn has long since been sanitized and defanged; once slammed for its depiction of women and its troglodyte-like attitudes toward sex, today porn is mostly a butt for snickering humor, a national in-joke against political correctness. So Debbie Does Dallas‘ arrival feels less like an artistic risk than a confirmation of porn’s general acceptability. Maybe it’s pornography’s tipping point, a Jump the Shark moment use whatever trend-o-rific cliché you want signaling when porn became passé. This much is clear: if this thing becomes a hit and wends its way to Broadway, Grandma is going to want tickets.
Thankfully, the makers of Debbie don’t pretend for a minute they’re staging a groundbreaking theatrical event. The show is nothing if not innocuous: it celebrates porn like Grease celebrated T-birds and letter sweaters; the sex is neither graphic nor constant.
There’s plenty of innuendo and one bare butt, but no one in Debbie’s audience is going to shriek or scamper for the exit this is a porno musical that’s as adorable as a seal pup batting long, black eyelashes.
The stage Debbie, of course, owes a passing resemblance to the 1978 film, itself a rather benign, amusing romp with enough of a storyline that it looks like Sense & Sensibility when compared to one of today’s pokefests. The title character, as you may cough know, is a wide-eyed suburban innocent who needs a clever way to pay her travel bills when she gets plucked to join the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. After dilly-dallying around with minimum wage jobs, she and her enthusiastic, hormonal pals come up with a more lucrative method of fundraising. The men in town are more than happy to oblige.
Like the movie, Debbie the musical isn’t terribly hardcore. Its attitude toward sex is lighthearted, even a little earnest; there’s none of the straightforward, stick-it-in candor that’s become rampant in today’s culture. (This is a musical that’s still making banana jokes, people.) One sex scene is peformed using well-choreographed dry-humping. A brief threesome takes place only in silhouette. There’s a cutesy dance number using some flipping dildos, and one character nearly gets caught in flagrante delicto with a candlestick. I may be wrong, but I don’t think I heard a single coarse word in Debbie’s book, unless you count a “cock” or two. The cast is as pretty and effervescent as a page plucked from an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog especially Debbie herself, who is played by Sherie Rene Scott. Everyone has nice hair and teeth, they smile all the time and they’re happy as hell, and why not? They’re in a porno musical that they can actually invite their parents to.
Of course, this is what musicals are supposed to do: take seismic cultural events and tragedies, add a song here, here, and there, and transform them into buoyant historical passages suitable for a tourist’s post-dinner consumption. Les Miserables turned the Paris insurrection of 1832 into a book and score interpretable by Debbie Gibson and thus lifted people’s hearts; Rent is a merry tour through a dour era of AIDS, drug addiction and homelessness; The Producers is a valentine to Broadway and a thumb in the eye to Hitler. The mission of the musical has always been to elevate the audience from its own despair, to dazzle, to suspend reality. So it’s ridiculous to think that Debbie Does Dallas, the musical, would be anything but a party. Debbie’s just bringing up the rear of a long daisy chain.
But what truly makes Debbie enjoyable and may make it a hit is that it distills all of pornography’s negative energy, leaving behind only sweetness. People who’ve never seen a porno will find it completely palatable. If you’ve seen a porn film or porn films you’re likely to be charmed, too. I don’t care if you’re the most hardened porno freak; there’s a moment in any porno where the viewer steps outside of whatever double-triple-double whatever action or threadbare plotting he or she is watching and thinks: I can’t believe real people are actually doing that. It’s the point where many of us feel a little skeezy. Most porn viewers can soon forget about that feeling and get right back to business, but the grimness can stick with you.
There’s no such aftertaste to Debbie Does Dallas the musical, and not just because its cast members aren’t actually doing the deed on stage. There’s enough randy behavior to titillate, but you won’t feel obliged to run home and cleanse yourself by reading Andrea Dworkin. Debbie Does Dallas may not be sensational or even erotic, but it’s guilt-free porn which may be some kind of miracle, like hangover-free rum. n°
©2002 Nerve and Ryan Tuthill