STAGE REVIEW : A Look at the Underbelly of Life in 'Porno' at Al's Bar

Before the era of R and X ratings, the only way to get pornography on the common market was to publish a doctoral thesis on the subject, with examples. It was sly, but in a couple of cases it worked (Mark Twain's "1601" might not otherwise be available).

Pablo Woodward's "Porno" at Al's Bar has that kind of feel. We're watching people watching pornography: In the first act in the guise of a congressional committee drooling over examples, in the second in the guise of a drunken nightmare created in the mind of committee chairman Freeze (played like a cartoon of Twain's typical congressional "linthead" by Brian Brophy).

The play's message that life itself is pornographic (two cops sexually abuse a prostitute in an alley, then let her go) is old stuff. So is the revelation that muckrakers are as sick as pornographers.

The "Saturday Night Live" ambiance in the writing, and in James Terry's direction, doesn't reveal any deeper significance in the evening. The simplistic, overwrought performances don't help. Actors Gang's Lee Arenberg is the only one with a grasp of the subtle insanity that might make it all work.

At 305 S. Hewitt St.; Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8 p.m.; ends April 4. Tickets: $5; (213) 829-3547.

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