Ever heard of clown porn? Google it, see what comes up. Or head down to the Red Room to catch Animalparts’ fun production of Miranda Huba’s Dirty Little Machine. It’s a play dealing with, laughing at, possibly even warning about the depths of influence pornography has reached in this country, performed in an imaginative form of clowny physical theater. You’ll be surprised how a perfectly mimed threesome (performed by two actors) can tickle your (funny) bone. Huba kicks the play off with one of many narrated monologues, told in a mildly seductive fashion by the young and talented Joanne Wilson (Jane). She describes finding a disturbing pornographic novel at age thirteen (apparently a true event in Huba’s life), which eventually leads her toward the following decision: She will “seek out the most degenerate, repulsive, douchebag she can find and date him- in order that she may either fulfill her deep-seated sexual fantasies OR renounce all disempowering desires and become a true feminist.”
As we know, weasels are not hard to find, and Jane swiftly finds Dick (the exuberant Ben Mann) and promptly has silhouette sex with the loser. As the relationship between the couple develops, director Nathan Schwartz smoothly moves the scene from one location to the next, making clever use of the limited space of the Red Room. We watch Dick gradually lose his sex drive, openly watching more and more porn on Jane’s computer. Whenever things take a turn to the worse, Jane chooses to resign herself to further humiliation. It comes to a climax with Dick’s delightful question: “What are you going to do for me to get you an abortion?” Jane’s naughty response: “Anything…”
Aside from a few funny moments in the script, Schwartz manages to infuse the play with outrageous physical humor and other clown techniques. There is a sense of physical exploration and freedom that gives even the weightier moments an airy comic undertone. Both actors seem comfortable moving from narration to dialogue to physical buffoonery.
For Animalparts, one of the most interesting young theater companies to emerge on the scene in the last couple years, this play marks a transition. The play employs their frenetic blend of physical theater, wild video and sound design, and oddly touching bits of quasi-realistic insanity. This time, however, they are daring to use it toward a piece of more direct commentary.
Just when the storyline begins to lose its immediacy, Huba adds a smart subplot. Borrowing from the novel the author found when she was thirteen, Jane recounts the story of a young girl who learns to enjoy her uncle’s sexual manipulations. The blending and interplay between the relationship of Dick and Jane, and that narrated in the story of the pedophile uncle, give the evening renewed strength, and challenge the audience’s sense of decency.
Still, however dark, the play fails to shock us in an unfamiliar way, by dreaming up new horrid forms of domination and fantasy (although it does offer some funny scenarios, like a porn scene between a sleepy middle-aged husband and his boring wife). Instead of taking us further, there is a sense of stating what we already know about porn and society.
The play seems to be exploring feminism through the lens of fantasy and domination. How does pornography, and the tremendous freedom to humiliate and be humiliated by the other gender, play into contemporary feminism? Is there any form of female liberation inherent in porn? Does the humiliation of men in the form of dominatrix, another aspect of pornography portrayed in the play, tell us anything about women’s empowerment? Probably not, says the play, since even those scenes tend to end in a facial cum shot.
The evening does end with a warning of what these games of domination, explored so thoroughly online, can lead to. I walked out feeling as though the play was intended to be some new form of feminism, but actually worked the other way. There is a falseness to the premise, which the lead character never understands – “A true feminist,” as Jane thinks she might become, does not ignore and repress her natural inclination toward dominating and being dominated. She accepts that domination is part of her inner world and works with that to empower herself. Instead, in the play, she allows those impulses to lead to her ultimate disempowerment.
Still, Huba has drafted a rich offering, and Schwartz, Wilson and Mann flesh it into an enticing evening of theater.