Review: ‘Asking For It’ and dishing it out

The comedian and theater artist Adrienne Truscott immediately begins her one-woman “Asking For It” with a piece of shtik that comments on our culture’s take on sex. She comes out on stage dressed only from the top down to her navel, and wearing a pair of come-hither shoes.

First she dances. Then, to the background tune of the Stone Poneys’ “Different Drum,” Truscott pretends to do a strip-tease by pulling her jacket every which way to reveal more of her blouse. Yet everything below that point is completely naked.

It’s a hoot. It’s also the first of many salvos against the way we use sex in our culture – or as Truscott’s own material puts it, “the rhetoric of rape-culture in American politics and world media.” Whoa…a comedy about rape? She says so, maintaining that comedy can apply to anything (although I wonder if even Truscott would say “anything anytime”). The full name of her show, which Simpatico Theatre Project has brought in as a part of its season, is “Asking For It: A One-Lady Rape about Comedy.” And then the official title goes on to say which part of her anatomy it stars, something we needn’t go into here.

If Truscott weren’t such a charmer – as well as a tease, a comic with a nice sense of timing, an amply talented improviser and a person who can make a point without hammering your head – her show wouldn’t work. But it does, certainly as standup comedy, or as performance art, but not really theater.

That last comment would probably make Truscott laugh, or sneer, because “really theater” is not her concern. She’s been able to be pigeon-holed before: a circus performer, a choreographer and so forth. Here, she just wants to have some fun about a subject that is inherently never funny, and make some in-your-face points about sex and comedy along the way. If this sort of brazen enterprise is not for you, stay away.

I saw “Asking For It” about six weeks ago, when FringeArts brought the show in for one performance on the late-night Fringe Festival roster. (The show was very late-night, as I recall, beginning not much before midnight.) She drew a large crowd to the FringeArts theater and she had a great time with us, sometimes taunting (gently) and other times making the point that being forced into doing anything — sexual or not — is a form of rape.

Her show, I’m sure, is the same at Simpatico, although the top-floor Skybox playing space at the Adrienne Theatre may make it a little less comfortablefor those who want to blend into the audience, given that the Skybox is more intimate than the larger FringeArts. She’s performed the piece, which she also wrote, many times – it won a major award in Edinburgh at the mother of all Fringe festivals.

At one point, Truscott gives us some figures concerning the incidence of rape. “Statistically speaking,” she says, scanning the audience, “there’s probably a rapist in here.” Then, a bit later: “I’ve been brushing up on the rules for rape in comedy… has anyone seen my dress?” She shows snippets of film on her privates, cites comedians in her rap about rape, and takes on politicians by name. She lacerates people for hypocrisy and covers lots of ground, from the date-rape drug to the way some office-holders use sex to get votes.

But confronting? That’s not Truscott’s style. Her persona is non-threatening. She makes her points with a solid recipe: One part brash, one part funny, a huge helping of unembarrassed sophistication. “Asking For It” goes to show how comedy can illuminate more than we may suppose.

“Asking For It,” presented by Simpatico Theatre Project, runs through Nov. 16 at the Adrienne Theatre, on Sansom Street between 20th and 21st Streets. 215-423-0254 or www.simpaticotheatre.org.

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