If I were to design a symbol to represent Paula Vogel's suggestively titled play Hot 'N' Throbbing, now playing at the Chance Theater, I would use a raw flesh wound as my inspiration—something not serious enough to require emergency care but damaging enough to cause severe pain. A flesh wound can bear a curious and striking resemblance to female genitalia; it's also an explicit and satisfying element of Vogel's strangely lighthearted plot—which just happens to be driven by pornography, domestic violence, and a woman's struggle to control her body and life in a male-centric society.
Emerging from the 1990s NEA uproar that saw the Senate declaring that obscenity completely lacked artistic merit, Vogel's play was funded by a 1993 Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays production grant. She used her resources to their fullest potential, taking obscenity as her subject and coaxing it out of the not-so-dark corners of the fractured American family. The Chance's production of Hot 'N' Throbbing, carefully shaped by director Magdalena Zira, sets the bar high for OC's 2006 theater season, with tight ensemble acting that balances strong individual performances with a staunch loyalty to Vogel's inspired script.
Set in the tiny home that soft-porn writer Charlene (Karen Webster) shares with her teenage son Calvin (Casey Long), who masturbates with a catcher's mitt given to him by his alcoholic father Clyde (Warren Draper), and daughter Leslie Ann (Cheryl Texiera), a nubile S&M daydreamer, the play covers a night in the life of a family grappling with sex and the violence that underlies it. Although I would have preferred a tougher, less defensive and less frazzled Charlene, the performances are consistent and captivating, especially Long's Calvin and Draper's portrayal of estranged father and abusive ex-husband Clyde, who is arguably the play's most complicated and difficult character.
Elevating this potentially clichd tableau to an imaginative and erotic level is the sultry and fiercely embodied voice-over of Alex Bueno, and her equally sensual male counterpart Dimas Diaz, who are at times the characters' consciences, weaving in and out of the 2-by-4-framed set designed by John Robinson—and at other times very willing players in the Red Shoe Diaries-like screenplay Charlene is writing. The lighting design, by Jon Langrell, is perfectly evocative.
Vogel's richly layered script makes this one of the most accessible "issue" plays around, and Zira's uncontrived treatment of it empowers the Chance's presentation of Hot 'N' Throbbing to explore the power of flesh wounds—the corporeal violations that fissure the appearance of things, to reveal the rawness of what lies beneath.
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HOT 'N' THROBBING AT THE CHANCE THEATER, 5552 E. LA PALMA AVE., ANAHEIM, (800) 838-3006. SAT., 4 P.M.; SUN., 6 P.M. THROUGH MARCH 12. $17-$20; STUDENT & SENIOR DISCOUNTS AVAILABLE.