Stray Cat Theatre's production of Trista Baldwin's Chicks with Dicks commences with a go-go dancing competition and a lap dance, and heads south from there. This unyielding camp comedy is so relentlessly awful, it should be offered up not as entertainment but as punishment for the worst possible crimes.
Last produced here in 1997 at Planet Earth Theatre, Chicks then featured a young Ron May in the character of Dog Boy. May went on to found Stray Cat and made a name for himself as a fine actor (most recently in Actors Theatre's one-man The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs) and a solid director (this summer, he'll helm Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson at Phoenix Theatre). This messy, incoherent production of Chicks with Dicks, which May directed, is a rare misstep in his otherwise consistent career.
Trista Baldwin's hyper-naughty homage to '60s exploitation films is meant to be trashy and cheap-looking, and on that front, thanks to Eric Beeck's cheesy set design, it succeeds. But Chicks fails in every other way: as an entertainment, as a comedy (I laughed once in nearly two hours, at a random double-take by Shelly R. Trujillo, who's suspiciously charming in this horrible play), and as a reason to get dressed and leave the house.
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Baldwin hasn't bothered with a plot; Chicks involves a former teen prom queen who breaks bad and becomes Vespa, a hog-riding girl gangster. She and some other awful women steal cars, assault strangers, and scream until they're hoarse. Shrieking, in fact, takes the place of acting for each cast member, some of whom ought to have known better (Michelle Chin). After witnessing the first hour of these screeched vulgarities and shouted tantrums, my mind began to wander; when I awoke from my reverie, two of the cast members (one with a giant rubber penis strapped to her forehead) were climbing into a wading pool full of chocolate pudding for a staged mud-wrestling sequence. I wanted to go home.
Spoofing campy softcore movies was cool in the '90s; today, send-ups of Russ Meyer androgyny and John Waters sleaze are so post-peak, they're retro. Would that, in this case, all that love for scuzzy movies amounted to more than a lot of ass-slapping, crotch-rubbing, and mind-numbing nonsense, as well.
Chicks with Dicks continues through May 12 at the Tempe Performing Arts Center, 132 East Sixth Street in Tempe. Call 480-634-6435 or visit Stray Cat Theatre's website.