KPBS AIRDATE: February 5, 1997
“Hot ‘n’ Throbbing” starts out true to its name. A sultry voice. A sensuous situation. It’s a wild ride that rapidly takes a decidedly downhill turn. It goes from surreal to hyperreal, from darkly funny to deeply disturbing.
Paula Vogel’s piece takes place on multiple levels — literally and figuratively. Down center, we have the pedestrian home of a nice, Fritz-Theatre-friendly, dysfunctional family: Two oversexed teenagers and a single mom who supports them by writing feminist porno screenplays.
On the upper level of Richard Fellner’s tacky-and-tinsel set, we have a sultry-voiced woman who is the VoiceOver, the inner voice of the writer-mother, a siren who plays out everyone’s fantasies. The whole script is written as the voiced-over screenplay the mother is creating on her computer. “Cut to Interior. Cut to Extreme Close-Up. Jump Cut. Take Two.”
The counterpart of the female voiceover is the male Voice, who is, at times, the bouncer at a sex-club, and alternately, reading erotic quotes from their own books, Nabokov, Lawrence, Miller and Joyce. He is also, frequently, 19th century German psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing, a famous authority on deviant sexual behavior. Each character has his or her perverse partner: the brother and sister, the two Voices, the mother and her ex.
As soon as the ex breaks into the house, snapping off the doorknob, cutting the phone line and disconnecting the computer, because a restraining order has just been placed on him, and as soon as the mother pulls a gun, we know the fun is over. Domestic violence, and its brutal relative, sexual violence ensues. And, perhaps because it is so inevitable, and at the same time, so incongruous given how things started out, we are appalled and terrified. Not because it’s improbable, but because it’s so eerily real: Here we have the predatory man, in all his glory, full of anger and machismo, a guy who’ll do anything to get his rocks off and regain his self-respect. And beside him is the codependent woman, who believes in his momentary vulnerability, trying to comfort and heal although she knows she should get him out of the house – fast.
Throughout the screenplay-within-a-play, sex and violence are inextricably linked. As the playwright put it in her notes, “obscenity begins at home.” Although the characters have names, they are written as prototypes: Man, Woman, Boy, Girl. It’s not exactly Everyfamily, but it is an everyday reality. Director Christina Courtenay has cut to the core of the piece, underscoring both the humor and the horror. Her cast is a bit uneven, but the result is highly effective, if that can be measured in bad dreams — both my husband’s and my own.
Playing the writer-mother, K.B. Mercer has bitten into another juicy, wormy role — with gusto. Elliott Kennerson is thoroughly credible as her four-eyed, baseball-mitt-abusing, voyeur son. As the daughter, Wendy Gastelum is at her best at her most adolescent. The Voices are not as versatile as their roles require. But Jon-Paul Baumer is chilling as the ex-husband, equally believable in his moments of defenselessness and aggression. For all the early laughs, this is a relentless 90 minutes — distressing, disquieting and, like its central theme, simultaneously seductive and repulsive.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1997 Patté Productions Inc.