|Picture is Benjamin Philip ("The Voice"), Jason England ("Clyde"), and Jaime Langton ("Charlene")|
By Tina Arth
Twilight Theater Company has carved out a niche for themselves by doing lots of edgy, little known plays that challenge the audience to really think about what they have seen. Simultaneously, they give local actors the chance to explore complex roles requiring them to dig deeply for both nuanced subtlety and the explosive action that sometimes accompanies their inner dialogues. Director Matt Gibson’s current production of Paula Vogel’s very dark, occasionally comic Hot ‘n’ Throbbing is classic Twilight: obscure, frequently surreal, deeply disturbing, nicely staged and skillfully acted.
There is an element of bait and switch in the show – the early scenes delude the audience into expecting a wacky, bawdy comedy about Charlene, a superficially button-down, school-marmish divorced mom trying to support two adolescents by writing “adult entertainment” – essentially soft-core porn. The erotic images floating around her brain (and keyboard), embodied by the male “Voice” and female “Voice Over,” are reminiscent of the short-lived sitcom Herman’s Head; Charlene’s inner voices stand in stark contrast to her parenting style, especially when she is forbidding rebellious sexpot daughter Leslie Anne from leaving the house in skin-tight clothing while son Calvin lovingly caresses his soft, willing baseball mitt. The serio-comic tone changes dramatically with the arrival of Clyde, Charlene’s drunken and abusive ex, who bursts in (defying a restraining order) for a quickie – he can’t afford a hooker. Charlene’s erotic fantasies, where the woman is in control of the S&M and bondage, are quickly replaced by Clyde’s all-too-real obsessions, and the evening goes very, very wrong.
Jaime Langton (“Charlene”) and Jason A. England (“Clyde”) create a bizarre, but ultimately believable, dysfunctional couple. Langton at first seems a bit too put-together and intellectual for the role of victim (or pornographer), but she skillfully devolves into the insecure dreamer trying to placate her abuser. The contrast between the external and internal is most pronounced in the scene where she awkwardly tries to seduce England in an almost childish parody of sexuality. England is probably a lovely fellow in real life, but he is terrifyingly believable in the role of violently twisted redneck; his incestuous musings about his daughter are positively chilling.
Tabitha Ebert (“Leslie Anne”) captures the classic over-the-top drama of the teen girl’s battles with mom, competition for dad’s attention, and incessant squabbling with her brother – all overlaid with the cold reality at the script’s core. My personal favorite performance comes from Chloë Duckart (“Calvin”), the obsessively masturbating, Peeping Tom little brother who, despite a multitude of quirks, is still ready to defend mom Charlene from her drunken ex. Duckart really has a feel for the emotional and sexual confusion and contrasts of early adolescence, and they create a memorable character.
The final two performers, Benjamin Philip (“The Voice”) and Adriana Gantzer (“Voice Over”) provide a significant dose of comic relief as they portray the overly dramatized external expressions of the naïve stereotypes living in Charlene’s imagination. Gantzer’s pole dancing siren hovers nicely on the line between erotica and parody, while Philip is at his best riffing on a Philip Marlowe-style private eye, alternating from hard-boiled to intellectual (sometimes in mid-monologue).
Vogel’s script is occasionally baffling, with odd interjections that sometimes muddy the core story. It is left to the director and actors to craft a coherent and compelling drama that holds the audience during the author’s flights of obscure intellectualism (or am I the only one who doesn’t need to hear multiple passages from Moby Dick?). Despite the distractions, Gibson and his cast keep the focus on pornography, incest and domestic violence, delivering a hard-hitting drama that shines a powerful light into some very dark parts of the human psyche.
Twilight Theater Company’s Hot ‘n’ Throbbing is playing at the Performing Arts Theater, 7515 N. Brandon Avenue, Portland through Sunday, August 20th with performances at 8 P.M. Friday and Saturday and 3:00 P.M. Sunday. There is an additional performance Thursday, August 17th at 8:00 P.M.