- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 10, 2008

With a combination of Restoration comedy and modern raunch, “Measure for Pleasure” takes a below-the-pierced-bellybutton look at our urge to merge.

High- (the search for true love) and low- (the quest for sex) born impulses are explored with XXX-rated agility by playwright David Grimm in a production directed by Howard Shalwitz that at times recalls the libidinous heyday of the District’s once-sordid 14th Street strip rather than Penn Quarter’s cultural corridor.

Woolly Mammoth has been transformed into a 17th-century version of the Pleasure Chest, with marital aids and platform streetwalker shoes co-mingling with powdered wigs, corsets, feathered fripperies and ruffled petticoats. In Robin Stapley’s gallery set, all the world is not simply a stage, but a staging ground for sex.

The plot would give William Wycherley the vapors, but suffice it to say that “Measure for Pleasure” contains the standard trappings of Restoration comedy: an aging lech, Sir Peter Lustforth (Doug Brown); his resplendently deluded wife, Lady Vanity Lustforth (Jennifer Mendenhall); a clever servant, Will Blunt (Joel Reuben Ganz); a street-wise prostitute, Molly Tawdry (Andrew Honeycutt); and the two young people everyone is after - the dashing rake Captain Dick Dashwood (Michael Gabriel Goodfriend) and the virginal lass Hermione Goode (Kimberly Gilbert).

Mr. Grimm has added a few kinks of his own by making the character of Molly Tawdry a transvestite gay man who is respected and adored by Will Blunt. There also are unblushing depictions of sexual practices some might think did not exist in B.G. (before Guccione) in addition to double-entendres and puns that are acted out as well as uttered - just in case a nudge and a wink are not adequate.

For a while, the deluge of saucy filth feels dirty and liberating, and the top-drawer cast is the antithesis of wallflowers at the orgy, throwing themselves into the roles with carnality and craft.

Miss Gilbert has perfected a jiggly walk that makes her hips and shoulders appear to be operating in two different time zones, while Miss Mendenhall portrays the vulgarities of a desperate housewife with comedic skill that deepens into poignancy when, in the second act, she reveals just how greatly she was bruised by an unloving husband.

Mr. Ganz displays clownish buffoonery and higher emotions in his portrayal of the wily Will, and Kimberly Schraf is a buttoned-up riot as a Scottish puritan who discovers the joys of the flesh.

However, no one wants to do anything for two hours and 40 minutes - even if it involves George Clooney, a blindfold and a bottle of malbec. “Measure for Pleasure” is indulgent and infatuated with its own cleverness and naughtiness, and the show amuses only in fits and starts.

We may not want to admit it, but length matters - especially in the realm of comedy.

***

WHAT: “Measure for Pleasure” by David Grimm

WHERE: Woolly Mammoth, 641 D St. NW

WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Through June 29.

TICKETS: $24 to $57

PHONE: 202/393-3939

WEB SITE: www.woollymammoth.net

MAXIMUM RATING:FOUR STARS

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