Turn up a for Sticky Digits a few minutes early, and you’ll find its title character – Pamela DeMenthe – holding court in the bar. Writer of two dozen erotic novels (which she dashed off, she’ll tell you, in less than a year), DeMenthe is here to educate us on the art of fiction, and of course to flog a book or two. But as the evening with DeMenthe wears on, you’ll learn that all’s not quite as rosy as it seems – either for her career as a writer, or in her own private life.
DeMenthe is, of course, herself a work of fiction, creation of comic actor Jenny May Morgan. Morgan makes DeMenthe a confident and deluded figure – entirely unaware of her own too-evident shortcomings, and perfectly suited to lead the brief writers’ seminar which kicks off this two-part show. Accompanied by badly-drawn PowerPoint slides, DeMenthe amusingly shares the secrets of her success, as illustrated by the selection of alarmingly-titled thrillers she’s laid out on a table.
The bulk of the show, however, is made up of an extended reading from DeMenthe’s execrable latest work, Sticky Digits. Needless to say, she proves a truly terrible writer, and her lack of skill is particularly well-observed: there are clumsy repetitions, overblown metaphors, and expository lumps allegedly copied from Wikipedia. Morgan has the confidence to repeat certain phrases so often that their very sound becomes funny; and it’s worth keeping an eye on the projector screen as well, for the incongruous images DeMenthe has occasionally chosen to accompany her tale.
There’s also a fair helping of shameless innuendo. But Morgan keeps things a lot more tasteful than she might have done; aside from a short, shocking (and utterly hilarious) opening passage, there’s not much here to make even the primmest of readers cringe. And that, I think, is a symptom of a wider problem: throughout Sticky Digits, I wished Morgan had pushed the envelope just a little bit further, developed the joke one step more. When she breaks into interpretive dance, for example, it’s certainly entertaining, but not quite preposterous enough to trigger a hearty guffaw.
Also amusing, but a little more poignant, is the tale of DeMenthe’s own home life. The clues start subtly – with a casual mention of how your friends might abandon you, and the hint of an exotic visitor from Spain. But over time, it becomes clear that Sticky Digits is a lot more autobiographical than it first appears. This strand of the show is neatly woven and delicately performed, rewarding an observant audience with occasional fragments of story and insights into DeMenthe’s artistic muse.
The whole thing finishes somewhat abruptly – and the central conceit, that we’re at a writers’ seminar, feels like it’s forgotten about halfway in. But still, Sticky Digits is good dirty fun, and there’s plenty more left for Morgan to do with this well-conceived character. Here’s hoping she writes a sequel.