Sex, Lies & Conversation in CCFTA's "Ava Gardner & The Pizza Boy"
By: Joanne Briana-Gartner, August 15, 2012
Ever wonder about the women who work those 1-900 phone lines? Those sexy college students or hot dominatrix types whose TV commercials run at midnight, because, you know, they’re waiting to talk to chat with you “any time.”
Or maybe instead they are just average women, with unhappy pasts, who are as vulnerable and insecure as the men who call them?
That’s the question at the heart of Ava Gardner and the Pizza Boy, the latest production being staged at the Cotuit Center for the Arts’ Black Box Theater.
If you go...
Ava Gardner and the Pizza Boy
Performances on Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 PM through September 1
4404 Falmouth Road (Route 28), Cotuit
Tickets are $12 and may be purchased in advance at artsonthecape.org.
The show is advertised for adults only and comes with a program disclaimer about extreme adult content, themes and language that should be taken to heart.
The dialogue between Ava Gardner (played by Tammy Harper) and her phone clients is graphic. The audience is welcomed into her world when Ava, whose phone handle is Mistress Ingrid, turns to us after receiving a call and asks, “Do you want to hear him? Of course you do.”
As the audience, we wonder. Do we really want to hear him? I guess we must: that’s why we’re here, aren’t we? Like rubberneckers at the car wreck, are we all voyeurs at heart?
Our heroine calls herself Ava Gardner in deference to the film star who, among other achievements, was the second wife of Frank Sinatra—but was also, according to Harper, “a goddess with a will stronger than his own.”
The play’s soundtrack is a collection of Sinatra tunes with Harper giving commentary on each of them.
A play that focuses on the seedy lives of phone sex women and the men that they service could be little more than a downer, but thankfully for most of the characters, Ava Gardner has a hopeful ending.
Scripted phone sex
In between some acrobatic autoerotism over the phone with the transgendered Lennie (played by the show’s playwright Larry Marsland), Ava gets dominated herself by a man who wants to be called “Daddy” (also played by Marsland).
Through all this, Ava orders take-out pizza and tries to make a human connection with the delivery boy (Adam Taylor Foster) offering him a larger tip if he’ll stay and dance with her.
Performed as a staged reading, the actors have scripts in their hands for most of the performance—which works when Ava gives instructions to Lennie. One wonders if phone sex workers really do have scripts to read from for differing situations.
But the pages are distracting in scenes with Foster as the sheer bulkiness of the pages seem to get in the way of the two characters trying to connect.
Even though they never meet in real life, the relationship between Ava and Lennie is perhaps the most real. For Ava, the pizza boy might become a lover but Lennie could become a friend.
After their first call, which is all business, Lennie calls Ava back and the two have a real heart to heart about clothes and makeup and going out on the town, with each character encouraging the other.
For his part, the pizza delivery boy might have turned out to be someone who would readily take advantage of a lonely woman looking for companionship, but happily, he doesn’t. The boyish Foster seems bemused with being propositioned by a customer; if he pities Ava, he doesn’t let on. While Ava insists on calling him Frankie, the pizza boy’s white T-shirt and leather jacket recall James Dean rather than old "blue eyes."
A work in progress
As Ava, Harper is able to portray both bored nonchalance and vulnerability. One imagines she turned off her emotions long ago. We never get much of a rise out of her, except when she’s asked repeatedly by “Daddy” to tell an unpleasant story.
Marsland is mostly subdued in his two roles, with his readings all done seated in front of his script. I liked him best as Lennie, the more sympathetic of the two characters.
While Ava Gardner and the Pizza Boy does have heart, its overall effect is somewhat lackluster. An intermission, in which none of Saturday night’s audience got up from their seats, probably was unnecessary and took away from the story’s impact.
In the program, Marsland writes of the show’s evolution and presents it as something of a work in progress. Perhaps, with its interesting premise, the show might continue to evolve until, like that car wreck, it becomes something we can’t turn away from.