The cast of dirty, sexy, derby play. Photo courtesy of Finnigan Productions.

dirty, sexy, derby play

Written and directed by Brian Walker
Reviewed by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright 2012 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
First, and I cannot imagine this is a fresh observation, that is a very, very good title. For anyone, but especially for native Louisvillians, those four words might hold a lot of promise, so the play itself has a great deal to live up to.
For the most part, it delivers on that promise. Filled with raunchy dialogue and fierce confrontations, almost all of it turning on the sex lives of four married heterosexual couples, it is funny as hell and most certainly not for the faint of heart or easily offended. It is advertised with a disclaimer announcing, “Adult content; intended for mature audiences only,” and it is a warning that should be taken seriously (there were walkouts on opening night). While there is no onstage nudity, save one briefly shirtless male torso, there is an abundance of profane and graphic talk about sex and body parts. Some of it may be sophomoric, but the intention seems to liberate taboos and secrets that push the characters into life-changing moments of epiphany and acceptance; and in that, it largely succeeds.
The plot places the eight characters at a 1974 Derby Day party in Louisville, approximately one month after the famous series of tornadoes swept through the city, leaving the most devastation of any natural disaster since the 1937 flood. The time and place are meant to offer an excuse for the occasion to be more than a Derby party: the hostess means to stir up the pot by framing the soiree as a “key” party; the infamous social phenomenon in which women go home, and ostensibly to bed with whoever’s keys they draw out of a bowl. Various other provocative party games precede this climactic event which, to nobody’s, least of all the audience’s, surprise, fails to produce the desired result.
Mr. Walker does a nice job fitting his characters to established stereotypes before he begins to explode things, so we can feel a little bit of comfort before the fireworks commence. The device of having all eight deliver introductory monologues while the other actors freeze starts to grow tiresome after the first six or so, and threatens to rob the first act of momentum, but once achieved, he accelerates the action at a pace commensurate with the rapid consumption of vodka grasshoppers (synergistically available to patrons at the bar downstairs). The action builds to wilder and crazier levels of outrageousness that would seem over-the-top if you could stop laughing long enough to notice. After the intermission, the second act opens with a bit of surrealistic business that is so tightly structured in the staging that dirty, sexy, derby play achieves a moment of pure theatrical invention that elevates it to something more than raunchy period comedy.
It is material that demands high energy and certain commitment in the playing, and here is the cast that can make it happen. Briana Clemerson is sassy as the hostess with a wicked plan, Vanessa, and Corey Long is just right as her angsty husband who imagines he can have his cake and eat it too. Todd Zeigler is as good as I have seen him as Tim, a masturbation-obsessed teacher who is as uptight as his polyester leisure ensemble suggests, while Elizabeth Cox, so adroit at more serious fare, delightfully has the time of her life as his wife, Lana. Andy Epstein’s character, Victor, as written comes off as a little too obvious in his repression at first, but the actor carefully renders dignity with subtle effect that builds to a wonderful climax. As his wife Francine, Leah Roberts fearlessly embodies the least sympathetic character with requisite acid and sure comedic timing. Finally, Eric Welch and Sarah East make a forceful entrance as Dennis and Theresa, a raucous white-trash couple who push the limits of the piece but play their larger-than-life roles with such ferocious skill that they manage to keep things grounded while shooting the moon. Michael Roberts does yeoman work as a utility player, solid support playing primarily a wide variety of telephone prank victims.
The stage at The Bard’s Town, with centrally placed double doors, is well-suited to the period accurate set and costumes that, thankfully, are understated enough to support but not draw attention away from the action.  
This is a daringly conceived play, solid in its ideas and so tantalizingly close to a polished finish, but also containing moments that seem a little rocky and redundant but are here overwhelmed by the confident players and smart direction. Still, I can easily imagine this script being produced outside of this region, despite its Derby City locale; a vastly appealing social comedy drawing other small companies like flies to honey. I missed the original production of the play and count myself grateful that Finnigan Productions saw fit to “remount” (pun as intended as they come) the play so I could partake of the experience cherished by so many others.
Editors note: dirty, sexy, derby play will soon be published and available at Carmichael’s and other local bookstores, as well as
dirty, sexy, derby play

January 26, 27, 28, February 2, 3 & 4 @ 7:30 p.m.
Finnigan Productions
at The Bard’s Town
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville KY 40204
(502) 749-5275