Deborah Hope and Stanley Andrew Jackson III in Stages Repertory Theatre’s production of NSFW.

NSFW is a play about objectification, beauty standards, and integrity in the world of fashion and media. And Leslie Swackhamer, its director, wants you to know this: It is very funny.

“It’s a biting satire—there are moments of sheer hilarity,” she says. “And I think that satire and comedy, through laughter, help reveal to us things about our world and see our place in it differently.”

Written by Lucy Kirkwood, NSFW premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in London in 2012 and has rarely been produced in the U.S. It follows the story of Sam, who loses his job at Doghouse, a men’s magazine where the men always behave badly. He interviews at Electra, a glossy women’s magazine, only to discover that in the fashion world, women objectify each other with even more savagery. 

Kirkwood is a multi-award-winning playwright and screenwriter whose play Chimerica won the Critics’ Circle, Evening Standard, and Olivier Awards for Best New Play and the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for best play in the English language by a female writer.

“Lucy Kirkwood has a brilliant capacity to turn the tables on an audience and open deep questions about our modern age in surprising and engaging ways,” said Kenn McLaughlin, Stages artistic director, in a press release announcing the show. “Her work is complex, funny and highly theatrical and that's why I love her plays so much.”

Swackhamer, who knows Kirkwood, calls the play dramatic and satisfying, with a lot of meat on its bones.

“It expands on the background that in our society, everything becomes commodification,” says Swackhamer. “It’s three long scenes that could also be viewed as acts. And the second scene—at its center—is almost this Heart of Darkness situation, and we stop laughing. But then in the third scene, we start to laugh again.”

Yet the 90-minute play, says Swackhamer, talks about much more than objectification and toxic masculinity. It’s a commentary on generational differences, about the gig economy millennials have found themselves in, and about where we are as a society. Three of the characters are in their twenties—one is Oxford-educated and has completed multiple internships and is grateful to be at a paying magazine job.

NSFW asks us what deals with the devil do we make to survive,” Swackhamer says. “I think there’s so much to talk about in it. In the end, it’s a rip-roaring night at the theater.”

Thru March 3. Tickets from $25. Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Pkwy. 713-527-0123. More info and tickets at stagestheatre.com.

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