Fringeworthy

Hip Shot: hookups

Wonderbox, 629 New York Ave. NW

Remaining Performances:

Saturday, July 23, 9 p.m.
Sunday, July 24, 12:30 pm

They say: "What was Plato like in bed? Do pandas get performance anxiety? Who moved third base? And where did Romeo leave his hose? Find out at the original comedy Hookups. We'd love it if you came!"

Greg's Take: The most genuine human connection I felt in this play was with the panda. Pepsi, a bull panda with performance anxiety, is one of several characters whose sex life is scrutinized in Hookups, a series of comic vignettes. Alongside the insecure and possibly closeted panda, King Arthur, Abraham Lincoln, andthe Virgin Mary see their proclivities and hang-ups dissected in five-to-10 minute chunks, and while a great many of the human-centered shorts don't approach the universal relatability of their ursine peer, they all wind up being pretty funny in their own ways.

Hookups was written by Alexandra Petri, a humor columnist for The Washington Post who remarked to me at the Baldacchino's opening night party that she was still on the fence about whether or not she wanted her mom to see the play. In my humble opinion, she doesn't have a lot to fear. For a play that takes place entirely in and around an inflatable bed, Hookups contains surprisingly little nudity (none) and very few things that a mother would take offense to. The subject of the play isn't so much sex as it is the awkward sooooo sensation that strikes immediately after the deed is done.

As should be expected of any work that more or less meditates on the same theme for 60 minutes, Hookups often teeters on the brink of repetition. On the whole, though, it manages to steer clear of verging into been-there-done-that territory, thanks in large part to its incredibly talented cast. Director Laura Hirschberg has assembled an extremely strong cadre of five actors, who play at least a dozen roles apiece. Though they avoid dramatic, scenery-chewing changes in voice and gate with each new character, there's never the sensation that these guys are repeating themselves. Petri is also wise to depart, from time to time, from the two-people-in-bed formula; some of her more rewarding scenes incorporate extra players, like tweenage girls co-authoring steamy historical fiction, and the omniscient voice of God.

But, while the funniness in Hookups is universally reliable, the moments of genuine humanity are few and far between. A couple of the sketches touch on something deeper in the universal human condition, but most of them seem perfectly content to make jokes that are only funny in context. That's not to say that this is inherently a bad thing , but after a while, I found myself wanting for some substance with my sweets. Petri's background as a humor columnist is evident in the material: While they'd probably be hilarious in print, the jokes here telegraph their payoffs too quickly. Often, they're simply too obvious.

All told, Hookups plays like a special sex-themed episode of Saturday Night Live. Some of it's good, some of it's so-so, and some of it, like the vignette with the panda who has too much respect to mount his mate, is downright hilarious. It's hit-or-miss, sure, but it seems cruel to begrudge a few missteps in a play with so much silliness in its heart.

See it if: Yo've often wondered what various historical and fictional characters were like in the sack.

Skip it if: You'd really prefer not to think about Abraham Lincoln that way.

 

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