Theater companies form for any number of valid reasons, but you can always tell when the impetus is actor-driven. Steppenwolf is the most famous actors’ collective in town, but the Artistic Home is also a (significantly smaller) company that operates under the same philosophy that “the actor is the heart of great theater.” The newly formed Pine Box Theatre is yet another company to join these ranks (its members met through the School at Steppenwolf), and its current production of “Hot ‘n’ Throbbing” (at the Athenaeum) points to a bright future for this talent-rich ensemble. But here is the one drawback I often see in the plays chosen by actor-focused companies: Juicy, complex roles do not always equal juicy, complex plays. Such is the case here, with Paula Vogel’s comedy-turned-disaster about a divorced, middle-aged mother of two who writes pornographic, bodice-ripper screenplays aimed at a female audience. The play starts off like a deliciously askew sitcom of raging hormones and acidic teenagers—the vampy Kelly O’Sullivan and deadpan Jeremy Fisher are terrific—that devolves into a horror film of domestic violence and murder-suicide. Such an abrupt genre shift is basically a fuck-you to audiences who derived pleasure from the earlier scenes—and maybe that’s Vogel’s point: Pornography does not come without a social cost, and what looks like fun and sex on the surface can belie something far more sinister and violent underneath. Either way, the script doesn’t hang together very well. But man, these are some good performances. Director Anne Adams has cast the show with a keen eye, and she had the good sense to team up with scenic designer John Wilson—one of the best working in fringe theater these days—who has devised a living room with a stripper’s pole and runway spilling into it. I’m always amazed what a sharp designer can do with the Athenaeum’s imperfect studio spaces, and Wilson’s efforts are worth checking out. So are these performances. (Nina Metz)
This production is now closed.