'Psychopathia Sexualis' turns up the heat at Performance Network<br><br>By CHRISTOPHER POTTER<br><br>NEWS ARTS WRITER_______<br><br>In Performance Network’s staging of John Patrick Shanley’s “Psychopathia Sexualis” the first thing one notices are Joanna Hastings’ long legs, unencumbered by her frilly nightie and open robe as she reclines languidly on a couch.<br><br>Director Kristan Graham instantly makes her point. This is a sexy show. Yes, it’s also a show about sex and also a battle of the sexes. But most of all, “Psychopathia Sexualis” is itself sensual, which accounts for the production’s pronounced fleshy-funny athleticism.<br><br>Shanley’s psychobabble about sexual identity and power struggles never seems serious enough to divert the play from the acrid farce at its core. Arthur (Scott Screws), a thirtyish New York artist, is manying his extremely patient girlfriend Lucille (Christine Huddle) following a six-year courtship. Yet Arthur’s been hiding a ghastly perversion: He can’t have sex unless he’s wearing his argyle socks, or at least has them within touching distance.<br><br>For the six years of his courtship Arthur has been in thearapy with a Dr. Block (J. Center) trying to quash his fetish. Now his shrink has stolen his socks, and Arthur’s in a panic. Would older friend Howard (Bill Mahoney) - a wealthy ex-stockbroker mired in a midlife panic of his own - see Dr. Block and retrieve the socks?<br><br>That’s not an easy task when confronting a Freudian clown prince like Dr. Block. In an elphin portrayal by Ann Arbor newcomer Center, he resembles Walter Huston’s Mr. Scratch from “The Devil and Daniel Webster,” bolstered by a medical degree.<br><br>A chameleon who can mutate from beatnik to macho Texan, Center’s Block is all over his office when he confronts the perplexed Howard. Block lies on his own analyist’s couch more than Howard does. He also plops<br><br>down on the floor or hovers over Howard like a predatory talk-show host. With luscious Lucille (never mind the plot) Block becomes a wholly different incarnation, then he re-invents himself again in a loopy happy ending straight out of Shakespearean comedy.<br><br>It’s a fabulous tour de force by the amazing Mr. Center (who insists J. is his real first name). Yet “Psychopathia Sexualis” is nothing if not an ensemble piece, emoted with urgent straight-faced hilarity. Screws, a cast replacement, is wonderfully guilt-ridden as Arthur, so mortified by his aberration that at one point he curls up like a fetus on Howard’s couch cradling his black leather jacket (Another fetish?).<br><br>The stocky Mahoney, an actor more in the Charles Duming-Brian Dennehy mold, seems a bit miscast as suave upper-cruster Howard. Still, sheer acting power gets him through; as for Hastings, she’s a master of empathic reaction as trophy wife Ellie, who’s always playing second fiddle to her hubby or to best friend Lucille.<br><br>As the latter, Huddle is pure Texas babe and a fashion riot, swaggering about in a ghastly wedding dress that makes her look sue months pregnant Moments later she’s strutting in Victoria’s Secret-esque undies with the casualness of one who knows one’s got the right stuff. Well, so she does.<br><br>Graham ups the libido temperature by having Huddle and Screws, then Hastings and Mahoney slither through a disco and tango number in an ingeniously erotic pair of set changes in wicked tune with Shanley’s ribald romp.<br><br>Sex without guilt? You bet.<br><br>"Psychopathia Sexualis" runs Thursdays-Sundays through July 26 at Performance Network, 408 W. Washington St. Curtain time Thursdays-Saturdays is 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 and 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 general, $12 students and seniors. Thursday is Pay-What-You-Can Night. For details call 663-0681.
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