Paula Vogel is not the subtlest of playwrights. In her Pulitzer Prize-winning play, How I Learned to Drive, she dealt explicitly with incest; a lesser known play, The Oldest Profession, is about three old women on a bench reminiscing about their lives as prostitutes. Her seriocomic-feminist approach can yield phenomenal work (Drive and The Baltimore Waltz are at the top of this list), or it can birth heavy-handed diatribes such as Hot N' Throbbing, which opened this weekend at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage, produced by 20% Theatre Company. Thankfully, this production is very good, so it's easy to overlook most of the sticky wickets.
Hot N' Throbbing depicts a world where women are beat up, vilified for being out of control, and generally get the sh*t end of the stick. Hoary stuff, right? Thankfully, director Claire Avitabile keeps it light—as light as a play about domestic abuse can be, anyway. This emotionally taut production highlights some of our society's darkest secrets and isn't easy to watch.
The play opens with two erotically charged characters slinking around in their own film noir fantasy. He's a detective and she's a playful dame. It turns out that they're both characters in the screenplay our heroine, Charlene, is trying desperately to complete before deadline. Charlene is the mother of two wound-up adolescents on the brink of sexual revelation. To pay the bills, she's started a women-centered production house called Gyno Productions. As a mother and provider, she's stretched thin. As a woman, she's lonely, and lives out some of her sexual desires through her work.
For various reasons, including writer's block and a teenage daughter who has yet to comprehend the effect of her cleavage on men, Charlene can't finish her screenplay. Oddly, she seems somewhat relieved by the final and most disturbing disruption of the night—her drunken husband, Clyde, who breaks her door down, upset about the restraining order she's put on him (gee, I wonder why). She shoots him in the butt and suddenly her evening has gotten a lot more interesting. Instead of writing a script, she gets to live one, to a lugubrious conclusion.
Clyde is at the heart of this play, and Jeff Broitman goes the distance and then some, portraying Clyde as all sinew and sex, alcohol and rage. As the night wears on, Broitman reveals Clyde's complexities and vulnerability. We start to like the creep. Broitman is also the most charismatic actor onstage, which doesn't hurt.
Without a doubt, Hot N' Throbbing is a horrifying play as well as an important one, and Avitabile makes sure her audience goes home with a greater awareness of what can happen behind closed doors. I did not sleep easily last night, but when I awoke, I was grateful for the reminder.
Hot N' Throbbing plays Thursday through Monday until August 25.