Looking to spend a family-friendly evening at the theatre, or for a nice musical to entertain your visiting elderly parents who could never quite bring themselves to have “the talk” with you?
Little tip: Broken Sex Doll is to be avoided. Looking for a stage show that’s fun, and don’t mind (a lot of) profanity or (a lot of) simulated sex? Keep reading.
It’s 2136 and humans are equipped with sensory implants that allow them to record and share experiences with others. Instead of YouTube videos, there are Feelies, and the resulting online porn opportunities are plentiful and effective. Humans have relations with robots, which can be tweaked to intensify the experience for the human participant. And everybody sings.
Billed as a sci-fi musical sex comedy, The Virtual Stage company’s Broken Sex Doll had its world premiere on Thursday night.
Think Blade Runner meets The Six Million Dollar Man meets Glee meets Golden Girls meets Flesh Gordon: a sexy, futuristic science-fiction tale with enhanced body parts, musical numbers, aging women bonding over being replaced by younger models, and some hot sex.
After a debilitating accident, an everyman named Daryl (Benjamin Elliott) wakes up in hospital, where he is informed by his nurse Ginger (Gili Roskies) that he has undergone implant surgery for routine upgrades. But on a patient-nurse dinner date that evening, it becomes clear that the change in him is hardly routine. They upload their mind-blowing sexual encounter and become instant Feelies celebrities.
When the video overtakes Feelies stalwart The King (Neezar) for the No. 1 position, the trouble begins. If falling behind Daryl and Ginger’s recorded romp wasn’t bad enough for The King – an egomaniac with mother issues – there’s this: Ginger, a hot red-headed android, is his ex, discarded after she malfunctioned. (Well, that’s his story, anyway.)
Written, directed and produced by Andy Thompson (The Zombie Syndrome, 1984) with original music by Anton Lipovetsky (who is only 22), Broken Sex Doll is meant to push boundaries, with its filthy lyrics and all that simulated sex. And it is, at times, great fun.
But it’s tremendously uneven – some numbers (a hip-hop duet; Neezar’s Rise and Shine performed on stilts) are clever delights, while others are utterly forgettable. The second act is much stronger than the first – more dynamic, less repetitive. And the production is about 30 minutes too long – translating to roughly 60 f-bombs and the like too many, in my rough calculation. So by the time you get to the meaningful point of the story (you’ll discover there’s a feminist theme buried underneath all the bumping and grinding), there’s a good chance you won’t care as much as you should or could have.
The performances are also uneven; some cast members really have no business in a musical that requires them to sing. Some also seemed tentative navigating the complicated, but striking set. (Thompson is also responsible for the set design.)
But Elliott, as our sweet, lanky, confused hero, is spectacular. He delivers a fearless, very funny, but complex performance. His physicality is impressive: whether it’s a small facial gesture that speaks volumes, or dramatic movements that leave the audience in awe. (I recall being similarly blown away after seeing him steal every scene in Chelsea Hotel last year.)
Brave is a good word for this production over all. It defies categorization, it pushes boundaries, it pushes its performers – and its audience. Corwin Ferguson’s video design is excellent, although the staging feels a little cramped, with a cast of 10 at work here on an elaborate set. This is provocative theatre, the kind that makes you want to write a giant cheque to an independent theatre company, to say “keep going!”
But risqué on repeat can get a bit dull. Just ask those discarded fembots. The company ought to keep tweaking, though. This potential doll of a show may be broken, but certainly not beyond repair.
Broken Sex Doll continues until March 24.