As revealing as a spotlight in a strip club, Professor of English Paula Vogel’s “Hot ‘n’ Throbbing” provides a bawdy yet terrifying view of the American family.
Director Ken Prestininzi GS superbly reveals Pulitzer-prizewinner Vogel’s complex ideas about the intermingling of sex and violence with fantasy and reality, questioning who possesses control of individual thoughts and actions.
Produced by Brown Theater and Sock and Buskin, the play examines the effects of media such as television shows, horror movies, pornographic films and literature on the American population as seen through one family. Heading this seemingly typical lower-middle-class suburban family is Charlene (Anne Troup ’07), a mother of two who supports her family by writing screenplays that she describes as “adult entertainment.”
Her two children, Leslie Ann (Jessica Laser ’08) and Calvin (Daniel Sobol ’09) watch TV, read books, bicker with each other and argue with their mother while imagining participating in sexual fantasies. Her estranged ex-husband, Clyde (Evan Smith ’10) is an alcoholic who threatens violence, intimidation and sexual predation on other family members.
The two most important characters, however, are not members of the family. Voice-over (Aja Nisenson ’07) and Voice (Mark Brown ’09) are the embodiments of the family’s sexual fantasies, interior monologues, characters in Charlene’s adult entertainment screenplay and general muses. One night when Charlene is rushing to meet a deadline for a screenplay, a seemingly regular suburban evening transforms into a bloody, violent and lustful interplay of secret fantasies as Voice and Voice-over facilitate the resurfacing of hidden hatreds and old wounds.
These exchanges between reality and fantasy allow for the blending of pleasure and pain. “Vogel’s theater tracks how pain and intimacy, and empathy and brutality, attract each other and too often battle for supremacy,” Prestininzi writes in the director’s note in the program.
The graphic nature of the play, which contains rampant sex scenes, abuse and rape, comments on the medium of theater itself. On television, these images are commonplace, but the intimacy of the stage brings out a particular mix of desire, repulsion and anger. This underscores Vogel’s fundamental question – if these images are so gratuitous in theater, why are they acceptable on television and film or in books?
The inundation of these disturbing images also contributes to the synthesis of reality and fantasy. Throughout the play, Voice-over reminds Charlene, “This is not a movie,” yet these images have been subsumed and have become reality. Vogel seems to be inquiring what role individuals have over their interior thoughts and monologues. She questions not only the role of the media but that of the family as well. “What happens in the family determines and intensifies what stories we tell, what sexualities we dream and live, and what futures we create for each other,” Prestininzi writes in the program.
The production will be performed at 8 p.m. Nov. 9 through Nov. 12 and Nov. 16 through Nov. 18 at Leeds Theatre. Sunday matinees will be performed at 2 p.m.