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Hot 'n' Throbbing
The surreal cinematic elements are connected to the central character's job. Charlene (Lisa Emery) is a single mother in her late thirties who, after years of being beaten and knocked about by her shiftless, alcoholic husband Clyde (Elias Koteas) kicked him out and, in fact, obtained a restraining order to prevent his return. She supports her troubled teenaged children -- the rebellious, headed for disaster Leslie Ann (Suli Holum) and the unsocialized bookish Calvin (Matthew Stadelman) -- by grinding out steamy scripts for Gyno Productions, a feminist film company that defines its output as erotica rather than pornography. As Charlene's fingers race across the computer keyboard, they are guided by her inner thoughts which are made concrete by two imaginary but vividly visible characters, Voice Over (Rebecca Wisocky) and Voice (Tom Nelis). They come on stage without regard for conventional doorways, often moving through window or patio door or pushing aside walls.
Whenever these surreal echo characters appear, the ordinary living room is bathed in a red light. Voice Over besides narrating Charlene's story-in-the-making also acts out the role of a foxy dominatrix in a porno club (red lights = fantasy red light district). The Voice mainly functions as a detective who could have stepped right out of the pages of one of Ramond Chandler's hard boiled crime stories.
The other character to disrupt the surface normalcy of Mark Wendland's purposefully nondescript townhouse is the husband. Whether it's the Voice and Voice Over gliding in and out or Clyde breaking open the front door, it's clear that Charlene, while stronger than she once was, and with a gun ready to be used, still is not sufficiently in control to keep her little fortress from collapsing like the perennial house of cards.
You can't ever accuse Vogel of not daring to tackle a serious subject -- often several at once -- imaginatively and with at least some humor. In the process of tackling this play's pivotal domestic violence theme, Hot 'n' Throbbing also takes on general questions relating to obscenity (which according to Vogel "begins at home"), how cultural conditioning predisposes women to accept imbalanced and violent relationships and the deleterious effect of being witness to sexual and physical abuse on normal family bonding and emotional development.
Les Waters, who also directed the Signature's Baltimore Waltz has successfully fused the surrealism and realism, but he's done little to give the play a less unfinished feeling and to keep it from unwinding more in slow motion than in keeping with the thriller genre. Lisa Emery is an impressive Charlene. Rebecca Wisocky is as slinky a sex kitten as you could wish for, and Tom Nelis a splendidly creepy Voice. However, the cinematic freeze frames and cuts get tiresome after a while and come at the expense of our involvement with the characters. As for Elias Koteas' Clyde, he never makes us see just why he still exerts a hold on Charlene or, for that matter, why he was hired for this role. Suli Holum is okay as the rebellious Leslie Anne and Matthew Stadelmann even better as the bookish, voyeuristic Calvin. Unfortunately it's hard to buy the playwright's optimistic scenario for their future.
Paula Vogel is a playwright whose ability with tough subjects won her a Pulitzer for How I Learned to Drive. Hot 'n' Throbbing, while delving into similar territory, relies too heavily on its hot red stylishness which makes it interesting without ever really making our hearts throb.
LINKS TO SOME OTHER VOGEL PLAYS REVIEWED
The First of Paula Vogel's Signature Season Plays: The Oldest Profession & Baltimore Waltz
How I Learned to Drive
The Long Christmas Ride Home
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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Go here for details and larger image.