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September 12, 2001:
Susan Schwartz '88 does Debbie on the Fringe
Creating theater from a porn film's dialogue
By David Marcus '92
photos: Gordon Watkinson

Last summer, Susan Schwartz '88 looked like she was about to put her degree in Italian to good use. Chosen to play an American wife in an Italian soap opera, Schwartz moved to Rome to shoot the 12-part miniseries. It seemed to be the break she'd been looking for since she moved to New York in 1990 and took up the struggle to make it as an actress.

A few months later, a victim of visa trouble, she was back in New York, sharing her apartment with a friend to whom she had sublet. Schwartz was casting for something to do when her subtenant reminded Schwartz that before she'd left for Rome, she'd said it might be fun to produce a stage version of a pornographic movie.

Schwartz watched several porn classics. The Devil and Miss Jones and Behind the Green Door didn't have enough dialogue to be turned in to stage versions, and Deep Throat was too depressing, Schwartz says, but she knew she'd hit pay dirt when she saw Debbie Does Dallas.

"It was funny," Schwartz says of the 1978 film, which tells of a Texas high school girl who wins the right to audition for a spot as a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader but must first scrape up the cash to get to the Big D.

Debbie's friends want to help, and they form a company called Teen Services Inc., whose employees contribute their earnings from odd jobs at places such as record stores and the local library to fund the trip. Debbie gets a job at a sporting goods store, and when its owner offers Debbie money to peek under her shirt, she's quick to recognize the possibilities.

"There's money to be made ó fast money," Debbie tells her girlfriends. "And we don't even have to do anything we don't already do with our boyfriends."

Having chosen Debbie, Schwartz called Harry Young, a national sales manager at VXC Ltd., to get the theatrical rights to the movie. "Hon, you know it's porn, don't you?" he asked. "No nice Jewish girls can be in this."

Undeterred by that advice or her day job at the British Broadcasting Corp., Schwartz cast herself as Debbie and put together the 16-person cast, even advertising on TigerNet.

One actor wrote back that he wanted to audition, but his wife wouldn't allow it. Schwartz & Co. performed the 65-minute show at the New York International Fringe Festival in August. All seven performances were sold out, and the media loved the stage Debbie. New York Times reviewer Anita Gates was charmed, calling the show "satisfyingly silly, adorably innocent." The Wall Street Journal's Philip Connors wrote that the stage Debbie "manages to hit just about all the right comedic notes."

Schwartz is trying to turn that positive press into an off-Broadway run for Debbie and a movie career for herself. She takes heart from her classmate Dean Cain, whom she remembers at their 5th reunion saying, "I'm going to play Superman." He did, in an ABC television series, and gained a screen career as a result. Schwartz also has high ambitions for Debbie.

Referring to Cain's famous college girlfriend, Schwartz says, "You never know, maybe Brooke will play Debbie one day."

David Marcus is a frequent contributor to PAW and can be reached at dmarcus@thedeal.com