Illyria’s “Hot ‘n’ Throbbing” Hits Hard, Hurts as It Must

Paula Vogel dives into life’s painful parts without flinching. So do the Illyrian Players.

After a delicate, wrenching version of Vogel’s classic How I Learned to Drive [see my review, below], Carly D. Weckstein’s troupe is now joining with Watts Village Theater to perform the lesser-known but even more challenging Hot ‘N’ Throbbing.

It’s about intimate violence — and it isn’t pretty. There’s lots of humor, and pathos, and even lyricism along the way, but it ends just as badly as we know it must.

Jason Caceres, Robyn Gabrielle Lee, Thaddeus Shafer, Nikki Mejia

Jason Caceres, Robyn Gabrielle Lee, Thaddeus Shafer, Nikki Mejia (photo: Jonny Taylor)

The Illyrian-Watts ensemble takes us on this difficult journey with skill and taste. Will Herder’s spare set sketches the kind of home we’ve all lived in, when we were “in transition” or perhaps for longer. Like Katie Jorgenson’s costumes, everything is serviceable, nothing is fashionable (except the teen daughter’s outfit). James Ferrero’s sound design hooks us with comic irony, then grows steadily darker.

The odd thing in this familiar setting is a pair of actors — a woman clad in black leather, a man in a dark suit — on cubes at the stage’s front corners. They start off like snarky narrators, but evolve into unconscious voices — she as the main character’s inner voice, he as a TV-like voice of the culture.

Charlene, a single mom, struggles at her keyboard (she feeds the family by writing soft porn); Layla, her daughter, wants to spend the night at a friend’s house but is dressed for the clubs; her pubescing son Calvin just wants to read. Layla leaves, Calvin goes to his room, and then a knock at the door announces Clyde, the ex.

Robyn Gabrielle Lee connects us with Charlene at once, and rings her emotional changes so precisely that it seems simple. Thaddeus Shafer stumbles through Clyde’s shifting ego states, making us believe every moment of his inarticulate flailing. Together they paint an indelible image of the hell that a failed intimacy can become.

My-Ishia Cason-Brown and Stephen Tyler Howell, the two-voiced chorus, keep raising the stakes as the tragedy moves inexorably forward. Nikki Mejia and Jason Caceres create spot-on portraits of the almost innocent young upon whose lives it falls.

Hot ‘N’ Throbbing is a stark, real drama; the Illyrian-Watts production is focused, often funny, finally horrible and heartbreaking. It’s not easy to be part of this modern — and, alas, timeless — tragedy.  But it’s worth it. If we don’t do this with our theatre, what are we doing?
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Hot ‘N’ Throbbing, by Paula Vogel, directed by Carly D. Weckstein.
Presented by The Illyrian Players in association with the Watts Village Theater Company, at Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., Los Angeles 90004.

Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00,,
Sundays at 7:00,
through April 10.

Tickets: <www.illyrianplayers.com/tickets.html>