White Hot goes to extremes
By Tommy Smith. A White Hot Equity Co-op production presented by Kindred Entertainment and Triford Entertainment. At the Shop Theatre on Thursday, May 8. Continues until May 17
Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes it impresses. Sometimes it bores.
In Tommy Smith’s White Hot, everybody is deeply fucked-up. Lil’s partner Bri is a domestic Black Shirt: “I’m her husband and I know what she’s feeling even if she doesn’t say it.” Lil’s smile looks like a death mask as she struggles to say the right things. But when she finds out that her sister, who is simply called Sis, has recently been brutally screwed up the ass by a guy with a huge dick, Lil wants some of that action.
All of the characters, in fact, seek out extreme experiences, apparently craving the reassurance that they exist. Lil, who’s pregnant, repeatedly punches herself in the face. Remembering the aftermath of her buggery, Sis says, “And later, I’m shitting blood, you know, but it’s nice. Tender.” (I could ask why playwrights routinely give anal sex such a bad name, but that would be another essay.)
Smith’s shock attack includes some great lines. Talking to Bri about the difference in their sexual styles, Sis says that hers is “more like baseball. I run from bag to bag,” whereas “You’re a golfer. You walk from hole to hole.” But the attack is so relentless—and ultimately superficial—that it starts to feel like a showoff-y stylistic choice.
I was more aware of the writer’s howl than the characters’ specificity. Lil, Sis, and Bri all fall into similarly manic speech patterns. And there’s not a heck of a lot of insight or plot. The essential gender dynamics are familiar. And because the narrative just goes in one direction, its developments have little impact.
The men—Bri and Grig, Mr. Big Dick, who eventually shows up—are especially static. Because they’re struggling more actively, Lil and Sis are more interesting. In this production at least, the scenes that feature Lil are consistently the most dynamic. Loretta Walsh, who’s playing the role, embodies Lil’s internal conflict so effectively that you can practically feel flesh separating from bone as she says the opposite of what she means.
In the long opening scene, which is mostly a monologue for Sis, director Ben Ratner undermines actor Stefania Indelicato, encouraging her to go for a Gatling-gun delivery that feels fake. Later, when Sis starts coming apart at the seams, Indelicato reveals the impressive depth she’s capable of.
Playwright Smith is obviously talented. But White Hot feels too much like a hermetic monologue by the playwright and too little like a surprising, character-driven story.