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A CurtainUp DC Review
Hot 'N' Throbbing

by Susan Davidson

Hot 'N'  Throbbing is neither.  Paula Vogel's newest play -- which is really a rewrite, but I'll come to that later -- pits a mother who writes soft porn for a living against her ex-husband, an uneducated alcoholic laborer and their two horrible teenage children whose bodies just won't quit.  The daughter is a poor student whose pelvis is in constant motion and the booksmart son, whose hobby is reading, is a voyeur and masturbator.  Vogel also employs  two characters dressed in black who strut the boundaries of the stage commenting on the action and quote Nabakov and Joyce, writers who really could write good sex. Those quotes only serve to underscore Vogel's and Smith's  flippant treatment of what could have been a  play with depth as well as comedy.

Although the debates surrounding pornography can be hilarious as well as serious, Vogel never gets beyond flirting with the subject. Characters are caricatures; jokes all too familiar. One-liner is followed by one-liner right up to the cinema noir ending. Cinematic devices such as  freeze frames, wipes and voice-overs underscored by sound bites from contemporaneous pop music, a technique much favored by director Molly Smith, may be popular in some theatrical circles but are already beginning to get old at the new Arena.

The current version of Hot is not a first draft.  The play won a grant from the Fund for New American Plays several years ago and has been performed previously. If it were a first draft, one could (but shouldn't) make excuses.  Audiences paying $27 to $45 per ticket are entitled to a polished script.

The production values are fine:  Bill C. Ray's set gives just the right sense of lower middle class house pride; Marilyn Salvatore costumes favor K Mart colors; and the lighting by Allen Lee Hughes, unobtrusive. The cast is uniformly able, although Lynnda Ferguson as Charlene has an elegant patrician air that jars with the script's harried, hard-working, physically abused single mother of two.  Colin Lane as Clyde gives a talented performance.  Danny Pintauro as their son Calvin is suitably fidgety; Rhea Seehorn as Leslie Ann is nubile and nimble.  As The Voice Over, and the play's libido, Sue Jin Song, slings herself around the stage, video style and Craig Wallace, as The Voice, reads passages from D. H. Lawrence, Henry Miller, Herman Melville, and James Joyce -- all of which serve to remind the playgoer that there's better writing, indeed better writing on sex, to be had elsewhere.  Also mentioned in the credits is the author's indebtedness to Mary Joe Frug's 1991 A Postmodern Feminist Legal Manifesto (An Unfinished Draft).  It is a reminder that the pornography/abuse debate, so hot a decade ago, seems to have calmed down of late. Hot 'N' Throbbing, with its social pretensions and weak case-- the program includes the phone number of the local Rape Crisis Hot Line -- will do nothing to further the cause.
By Paula Vogel  
Directed by Molly Smith  
With: Lynnda Ferguson, Colin Lane, Danny Pintauro, Rhea Seehorn, Sue Jin Song and Craig Wallace  
Set Design: Bill C. Ray  
Lighting Design: Allen Lee Hughes  
Costume Design: Marilyn Salvatore  
Sound Design: Timothy M. Thompson 
Movement Consultant: Tony Powell  
Running time:  1 hour,  30 minutes with no intermission  
Arena Stage Kreeger Theatre, 1101 6th Street SW (202) 488-3300 
Arena's website:  
Opened September 9, 1999, closes October 17, 1999  
Reviewed by Susan Davidson 9/10/1999 based on a 9/9/1999 performance.
©Copyright 1999, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
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