Love and Lust: An Evening of Comedic Conundrums
Clinton Street Theater, 2522 SE Clinton, 238-8899, Fri-Sat 7 pm, through October 23, $10

L ittle Red Riding Hood begs a greaser wolf to devour her, and two mayflies erotically rub each other's antennae, as "foreplay breaks into funeral" in their day-long life spans. It all sounds pretty heavy, but in the Portland Performance Party's (P3) Love and Lust, hapless lovers with no chance for romance make the rigors of love seem lighthearted.

Loosely inspired by classic vaudeville, P3 -- AKA "The Party"-- has stitched together a two-hour show in which five one-act plays are paired with live music (courtesy of local jazz/blues band The Percolators) and punctuated by quasi-emcee Daniel Knighten's meandering monologues. In an attempt to bring marginalized theatrical formats to a larger audience, P3 has partnered with the Clinton Street Theater--long known for its art house and cult cinema offerings. It's a big undertaking--and a big venue for a community theater production, which is what you first notice as Knighten stalks the stage, mulling over small-time subjects such as the perils of bad drivers or farting in elevators. As he attempts to fill up all that space with a string of airy Seinfeld-ian musings, Knighten observes that a lover doesn't truly love you unless he or she will help you bury a dead body.

Under the threadbare logic of that definition, there isn't a single instance of true love in the whole production. A sex-starved diner and a shapely waitress meet an untimely end at the hands of a veterinarian's hypodermic, but nowhere in Love and Lust does a love-struck couple prove their commitment with a shovel and a shallow grave, somewhere deep in the woods.

Pulling from plays by Billy Aronson, Linda Eisenstein, Christopher Durang and David Ives, there are plenty of clever turns of phrase and ridiculous situations populating Love and Lust. But the cast's execution comes off a little dull. The irony of a camp-saturated vaudeville show seems to be completely lost here, as the troupe runs through scenes with the kind of oblivious earnestness you've come to expect from Old Navy commercials. In the end, Love and Lust is innocent and goofy fun, but the laughs are few and far between.