2018 Capital Fringe Review: ‘The Country Co-ed’

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If you’re a fan of double entendres and early-2000s raunchy teen movies, then chances are you’ll like The Country Co-ed, a modern re-imagining of William Wycherley’s 17th-century Restoration comedy, The Country Wife, spearheaded by writer/director Michael Boynton and his team of collaborators from the Jacksonville State University Department of Drama.

Set in the imaginary world of Fornica University (FU, naturally), The Country Co-ed pits female and male sexual prowess against each other when feminist “ice queen,” Dani (a commanding Catie Stahlkuppe), challenges “man-whore” Harry Horner (Aaron Williams) to a bet: who can sleep with the most people before midnight on Homecoming Saturday? With the help of their respective girl and guy gangs, particularly their more sex-savvy non-cis queer counterparts, Lucy (a bawdy Sam Eddy, who at times reminded me of Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids) and The D (John Mackey), Dani and Horner concoct plans that will make them irresistible to the opposite sex. Horner feigns impotency to appear non-threatening to other men, and to entice horny ladies wanting to maintain a public image of purity, while Dani begins dating the despised bootlicker, Sparkman (Dakota Yarbrough), in order to attract suitors spiteful of her new beau. All the while, the crazed puritanical Dean Johnson (Larry Mason in an over-the-top, physical performance that occasionally felt off-pitch, but at its best was reminiscent of Principal Rooney in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), newly married to a naive, but curious Amish mail-order bride named Marge (a delightful, comically acute Meghan Phelps), attempts to thwart Horner’s shenanigans with a series of ultimately self-sabotaging decisions.

Whereas Horner’s ruse draws directly from the Wycherley version, Dani’s storyline and the inclusion of queer and gay characters is a novel addition to the source material, a necessary update from the antiquated gender politics of several hundred years ago. Going into Co-ed not knowing its historical origin, however, might turn off audiences expecting a more contemporary and politically nuanced battle of the sexes. Sexual identity and gender inclusivity seem to be the only lessons learned since 1675, as the premise relies too heavily on gender stereotypes that aren’t as funny as they were ten or twenty years ago in American Pie.

An overhead projector is used creatively to denote location change and display text messages as they’re being written out, amongst other spatial or mental clarifications, though the quality of the graphics is not particularly impressive. Some stage lighting issues also marred this production, with some spotlights visibly off target and a lighting deficit in sequences that took place in the elevated stage in the backdrop.

During the period of time that Horner and Dani battle it out to up their body counts, Marge gets a sex-ed lesson (and awakening) with a cinnamon bun and a banana, closeted monogamist Hart (Eric Wilkerson) pines over Dean Johnson’s good-girl sister, Ally (Chloe Barnes), Lucy clears a bomb from detonating, and a trio of Bible-thumping broads get new insight on the meaning of “sacrifice.” Suffice it to say, a lot of ridiculous things happen. With the right attitude and expectations (and a 15-minute edit down), Boynton’s script (co-written with Eddy, Mackey, and Mason) is the blueprint for a light-hearted and lively relief from our daily lives. While there might be too much thematic reliance on the Wycherley text for a play set in 2018, Boynton and company are undoubtedly hilarious writers, concocting fresh, pun-based humor just when you thought it’s all been said and done before. I’m curious to see what they’ll come up with next.

Despite technical issues and a noticeable difference in performance skill amongst members of the supporting cast, The Country Co-ed is delightfully lewd fun, a production stuffed with naughty banter that sprints through a plot-heavy, multi-location saga with the sort of fast-paced, back and forth cartoonish comic spirit of sitcoms like 30 Rock.

Running Time: 90 minutes (though information on the website says 120), with no intermission.

The Country Co-ed, presented by Flying Blind Theatre Ensemble, runs through July 29th, 2018, at Blind Whino – 700 Delaware Avenue, SW, Washington, DC. For tickets, purchase them at the door, or go online.

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