Written by Andrew Hinderaker
Directed by Jonathan Berry
At The Gift Theatre
A chilling/funny look at what people will do for the money….shot.
Pornography has been and will continue to be the secret little driver behind several grand developments in human civilization. We don’t often associate it with philanthropic principles, however, perhaps because things like the breast cancer association had trouble being saucy and socially conscious at the same time. But with social awareness hotter than ever, it does seem a little odd that no one’s found a successful way to tap the porn model (forgive the double entendre) for philanthropic concerns. A couple who wants to try just that is at the heart of Andrew Hinderaker and The Gift Theater’s premiere of Dirty. They are in pursuit of a socially responsible American Dream in an industry not known for its altruism. Hinderaker’s previous effort, I Am Going to Change the World, had a similar dream theme and its repercussions, and his exciting new voice continues to crackle with energy and insight.
Investment banking is a dirty business in its own right, and Matt (Michael Patrick Thornton, artistic director and co-founder of The Gift) has had enough. Despite his innate gift for seeing winners where others see losers, he quits his job when his morals get the better of his business acumen. His liberal eco-friendly gender-studies wife Katie (Hilary Clemens) is pregnant with their first child and isn’t exactly thrilled that Matt would make such a drastic choice. Matt has an idea to see them through though, and it might just be crazy enough to…well it’s just crazy. Leveraging their shared love of porn and philanthropy, he’ll start his own production company with some brazen rules. No one under 25, no artificial enhancements, cultural consultants for sensitivity—it’s BoBo paradise for pornographers and flies right in the face of the perversions of rival porn giant Jacob (Tom Hickey). A good deal of the proceeds will even go to a foundation to help Katie’s pet project of rehabilitating former sex slaves.
When all other financial avenues close, Matt will have to make the first of a few deals with the devil when he grovels at the feet of former boss Terry (Paul D’Addario). With him on board, their triumvirate is complete and success seems all but certain as the money starts rolling in. When a new fresh face walks in with everything they want to be the flagship star in the form of 20-year-old Mikayla (Mouzam Makkar), the slippery slope of budging lines begins. How long can high-minded ideals withstand the realities of a business that deals in fantasy?
Under Jonathan Berry’s tight direction, Thornton delivers an absolutely disarming performance—his boyish appeal and comic timing give Hinderaker’s understated humor just the right amount of verve. The chemistry he creates with Clemens is adorable and anchors the audience enough to follow them on their crazy journey.
Make no mistake, this is an audacious (and certainly divisive) premise and not just because it deals with pornography. Hinderaker wants to go so high-concept brute-force allegory, his cast has to be absolutely rooted in reality. That’s not to say this is an entirely believable work, and some stuff at the end gets a bit muddled and hasty if not downright sickening. If Change the World was cautiously optimistic about potential, Dirty is the counterargument. We root for bright-eyed Matt but must grudgingly acknowledge that the sleazy Terry may be the one who was right all along.
Nothing if not self-aware, Hinderaker gives Matt’s severals asides to the audience replete with tongue-in-cheek acknowledgments that some of the goings-ons may be over the top. I can’t quite completely forgive Dirty just because it’s meta about itself, but the performances could be worth the price of entry alone. Thankfully the sparkling dialogue and visceral analysis shine through despite any problems. Who knows, maybe it isn’t all that improbable. Case in point: Larry Flynt’s slogan for his 2003 California governor run was “Vote for a Smut-Peddler Who Cares.”
Date Reviewed: November 18, 2012
At The Gift Theatre, 4802 N Milwaukee, Chicago, IL 60630, call 773.283.7071, tickets $30 ($25 Sunday matinee. Student, Industry and Senior tickets $20),Thursdays-Saturdays 7:30pm, Sundays 2:30pm, running time 2 hours 30 minutes with 2 intermissions, through November 18, 2012.