20% Theatre; at Minneapolis Theater Garage through August 26; 612.227.1188
The 20% Theatre Company, Twin Cities, launches its second season this weekend with Paula Vogel's early-'90s theater grenade about pornography and domestic abuse (Vogel wrote it when the culture wars were in a particularly hot phase, with the NEA under attack). When the play begins, Charlene (Mykel Pennington) and Clyde (Jeff Broitman) are divorced. To make ends meet, Charlene writes screenplays for erotic films to support herself and her two children, while trying to fend off the alcoholic and physically abusive Clyde, who has yet to digest the news that his marriage is over. All the while, their two children are in adolescent overdrive, a state made all the more complex by their parents' lives and proclivities. Director Claire Avitabile stage-managed the play in college several years ago and found resonance in it, she says, because elements of the action "were unfortunately part of my past." Avitabile was happy with that show, but "because it was a college production it didn't have the same impact, because the actors were all roughly the same age." In this show at the Theater Garage, the actors are roughly the same age as the characters they portray, from teenagers to thirtysomethings. And while the part of young Calvin was difficult to cast at first, Avitabile says, 20% opened up auditions to the local transgendered community and found a female-to-male transgendered actor who came in and immediately snapped up the role. Adding to the complexity are Joe Swanson and Kari Hammer, who play "The Voice" and "Voice-Over," respectively, verbalizing the play's conscience, speaking directly to characters as a chorus, and even (in Swanson's case) assuming the role of a detective trying to unravel the action. Hot 'n' Throbbing promises to be a meditation on the contemporary family in all its ambiguity and shades of gray. Avitabile insists it's not a moralistic or preachy work; she also mentions that it contains more than its share of humor, albeit of the darkly shaded variety.