Washington Ensemble Theatre's latest group project—a steamy, spunky, playful meditation on all things hot and bothered—opens with a bang. As lights flare against velvety red curtains, the six-member cast, barely clad in burlesque garters, satin bras, and bikini briefs, busts out in a come-hither dance routine that is equal parts spoofing and seductive. What Is Sexy?, which ticks in at just over an hour, is a protracted flash of bisexual foreplay, a slick and slippery showcase of young lust in the post-bareback age of latex and MySpace.
What is Sexy? Washington Ensemble Theatre at the Little Theatre, 608 19th Ave. E., 800- 838-3006, www.washingtonensemble.org. $10–$15. 8 p.m. Thurs.–Mon., through May 29.
In structuring the show, WET utilizes a scheme they've nearly perfected: a combination of variety show and sociological survey, constructed partly from man-on-the-street interviews, that riffs on a single theme—in this case, what turns folks on. The result is a kind of carnal collage of soft-porn scenarios and sexy skits, all focusing on that distinctly Seattle-liberal-metrosexual chic that keeps kink within the realm of "safe words" and ethical sluts. If this were salsa, it would be tasty but mild.
Directed by WET founding member Marc Kenison, What Is Sexy? is less an exploration than a celebration of sexual diversity. As such, the mood is decidedly light and frolicsome, almost innocent in its optimism. Much of it is also quite funny. One of the opening skits cleverly lampoons the X-rated "plot" twist of the blue-collar house call, with a buff plumber's shop talk becoming a hilariously extended come-on, full of mixed messages and double entendres ("Hey, grab my caulk, would ya?"). In one of the play's best scenes, a pair of talk-show hosts discussing the merits of a piece of jewelry fall victim to a vicious bout of Freudian slippage. However, if the show steers clear of sexuality's darker side, by no means is it merely a put-on. There are moments of frank eroticism, such as the "kissing class" near the end of the show, as well as many of the monologues interspersed throughout.
To a person, the attractive and talented cast—Colin Byrne, Mikano Fukaya, Elise Hunt, Jonathan Martin, Jeanette Maus, and Lathrop Walker—does a fantastic job with what, despite all outward appearances, must be difficult material to pull off. Half-naked, they couple and recouple, kissing, caressing, writhing, humping chairs, mimicking the crescendo blurt and moan of mock orgasm. Their confidence is infectious and, well, sexy. The show is well choreographed, with a handful of simple but effective dance sequences, and the transitions between skits are smooth. Kenison keeps the pace brisk and frisky.
In the end, though, one wishes the folks at WET had challenged themselves by delving deeper into the material. The lack of a coherent narrative hurts them, detracting from the cumulative impact of each successive scene. The whole is not equal to the relative strength of its parts. Few fringe groups in town possess the raw talent that WET enjoys, and their ambition and sense of mission so far have placed them at the forefront of independent theater. What Is Sexy? seems to find this troupe at a crossroads, secure in their status and confident in their collective ability to create energetic, engaging productions that appeal to hip new generations of theatergoers. WET's dedication to producing self-created, collaborative works is refreshing, but maybe it's time to really test themselves by shaking up their established methods, moving in a new, different direction. The sky's the limit. The question is not What Is Sexy? The question is: What is WET?