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Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

Watching The State's Revival of 'Sex a.k.a. Weiners and Boobs' at San Francisco Sketchfest

As as an uber-fan of the famed nineties sketch group The State, it delights me that several of the members have continued to collaborate over the last twenty years. In 1998, a few short years prior to the production of the comedic masterpiece Wet Hot American Summer, State members Michael Showalter, David Wain, and Joe Lo Truglio wrote and produced the play Sex a.k.a. Weiners and Boobs over the course of four days. Showalter, Wain, and Lo Truglio and a majority of the original cast reunited this past weekend during the San Francisco Sketchfest to perform the play for only the second (and perhaps the last) time.

As David Wain explained in his introduction, a play pulled out last minute from a play festival being produced by a good friend. David Wain, Michael Showalter, and Joe Lo Truglio immediately told the producer that they would perform a play called “Sex” to ensure that people would see it. Four days later, audiences were treated to the story of Jack Greenberg, the new sheriff of Teaneck, New Jersey, and his battle to eradicate the evil Tad Theaterman, narrated by an old farmer as if it was a fable to be a lesson of heroism and determination.

This weekend's performance of Sex was somewhat of a Wet Hot reunion; along with Wain, Showalter and Lo Truglio, Peter Sallet provided the music ("guitar guy" in the film) as well as Nina Hellman (Nurse Nancy). Absent were original 1998 performers Wet Hot alum Zac Orth and State alum Todd Hollobeck, who seemingly is the only member who has dropped out of the entertainment industry completely, so no suprise about that. Filling in was Jeremy Shamos and Rob Huebel, who seemed to be taking a break from his usual sardonic persona to play the timid, barely capable film producer of the show, along with various bit parts.

Huebel, in character, started the show with the announced that due to "complicated schedule conflicts," the cast would be offering a Q & A about the show before the performance, with plants in the audience asking about developments of characters and plot points the audience has not yet seen. This immediately set the tone for the evening: thwarting expectations of a typical stage play.

The basic plot of Sex a.k.a. Weiners and Boobs represent a typical story arc of a hero's journey. Tad Theaterman (Lo Truglio) has long been terrorizing the town of Teaneck, NJ, with his gang and sleazy hookers and gigolos. It's up to new sheriff Jack Greenberg to free Teaneck from Theaterman's grasp. He falls in love with Hilary Carlson, who later resorts to working at the town brothel after leaving her alcoholic husband (named Gerard DePardieu, because, why not?). All of the actors play multiple parts, from local kids up to no-good, members of a dangerous gang, unappealing prostitutes, and alcoholics, all with the help of a rotating selection of wigs and props.

Sex a.k.a. Weiners and Boobs is, quite simply, a terrible play. Enjoyable, quirky and insipid? Yes. Would you expect nothing else birthed from the minds of The State? It's terribleness serves as the main anti-comedic gimmick. It's wrought with with over acting, insipid character names (the mayor of the town is also named Gerard Depardieu, by coincidence), parodies of broadway-style musical numbers, stunt penises, laughing at the word "duty",  breaking the fourth wall to acknowledge plot holes, and an inexplicable inclusion of a scene from David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross, performed with conviction (hey, many of these folks actually attended theater school).  The commitment to the ridiculousness is a reminder that some of the best State sketches were done with the fullest commitment (“Porcupine Racetrack” and the “U.S. Men's Bikini Thong Rollerblading Team” come to mind).

I have a hunch that given more than four days for production, the play would not have had a much different result.  Four days or three months, it still would have the hallmarks of The State's comedic style. This is not to criticize the writers' talent; it's natural for talented comedians to hone their craft as time progresses. In the 15 or so years since the original conception, David Wain and company have created works with more cohesion, yet still not compromising the absurdity. There's Wet Hot and The Ten, and the widely overlooked Wanderlust. Experiencing Sex a.k.a. Weiners and Boobs is seeing the origins of a great artist.

Sex is likely a play that would not succeed without the context of where the performers have come from and where they are now, and likely not appeal to anyone who is not a fan of The State's comedic dynasty. Thus Sketchfest was the perfect opportunity for a revival, and I consider myself one of the lucky few to have witnessed it.

Here's a trailer for the original production:

Robin Hardwick is a writer based in Oakland, CA.

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  • http://thekyleidoscope.tumblr.com/ Kylie

    Did they record it? I wouldn't mind finally seeing this after hearing about it for years and years.

    • http://twitter.com/robinhardwick Robin Hardwick

      I don't think so. Too bad.

  • Brian

    At least three names were misspelled in the writing of this article.

  • kdee

    I saw the original performance. I had just moved to nyc and it blew my mind. It was a mess, but I wept with laughter.

  • Mugsy

    The plot of the play in indeed awful in aggregate, but it's still very funny and highly subversive show — whether intended or not. From the Q&A at the beginning to the sending up of stock characters, it's written by people who've seen and participated in enough television and theater to roast it all. Also, the Glengarry scene wasn't actually from Glengarry; that itself was a spoof of the movie — it's hypermasculinity and extreme use of profanity. Altogether, very smart.