Joanne Wilson and Ben Mann in Dirty Little Machine. Photo by Anthony Johnston.
BOTTOM LINE: Dirty Little Machine is, overall, an enthralling, often laugh-inducing work that explores both the relation and the divide between sexual fantasies and reality.
Regardless of one's final opinion of Horse Trade Theater's production of Dirty Little Machine, it is undeniably compelling and attention grabbing, tackling such taboo and complex issues as: gender roles, pornography, voyeurism, the difference between sexual fantasies and reality, and sexual fulfillment.
Jane (Joanne Wilson), a young feminist, is troubled by her reoccurring disempowering sexual fantasies that frequently involve her in a subordinate position to a lecherous man. She blames these fantasies on an erotic novel she read at the age of 13 in which a young girl is seduced by her cretinous uncle. Jane decides to hatch a plan to cure herself of her sexual fantasies and heads to a party, announcing that she intends to find a “degenerate self-proclaimed ‘sexual deviant’ and date him." Because, she continues, "if I date a totally misogynist porn-loving douche bag my sexual fantasies will either be fulfilled, or, I will renounce all disempowering sexual fantasies."
In a matter of moments Jane locates a "weasel" appropriately named Dick (Ben Mann) and after lightly flirting with him he proposes that they make out. They do, which leads to Dick asking her for her phone number so that they can go on an actual date. The date turns out to be Dick explaining that he has no money to take her to the movies unless she wants to pay, and suggesting that they again "make out," which leads to Dick inviting himself over to her place for sexual intercourse. Fully embodying his "weasel" identity, he wears a plastic animal snout and makes animal noises during sex. Jane admits that he is both a good kisser and good in bed, which perhaps partly explains her illogical decision to allow a man she seems to despise to move in with her into her cramped attic apartment.
Each scene of the play is interspersed with a segment of Jane’s previously mentioned prized book that bears a parallel to the story. As Jane becomes further and further enmeshed into life with Dick, the embodiment of her fantasy, the princess in her novel becomes more and more involved with her uncle.
As Dick has no job, he spends all his time looking at porn on Jane's computer, while Jane can barely pay the bills and eviction notices begin to pile up under the door. Soon, Dick grows sexually bored with Jane and instead of having sex, instead relies on internet porn, which as time goes on seems to feature more and more eyebrow raising titles. Dick defends the titles, including the words dirty, teen, and slut, telling her that they are just meaningless words and showing how one’s exposure to porn becomes desensitizing after a point. In our internet-addicted culture where pornography is only a mouse click away, many have become more and more sucked into this desensitizing world, perhaps losing the divide between reality and sexual fantasy.
Dirty Little Machine eventually enters the realm of fantasy with the two launching a DIY porn empire. Through this, the play is able to explore the plot structure of most pornography and how truly inane and far from reality the storylines are. Jane makes the observation that “we realize we are getting very far away from sexuality, so we try to make some porn that will appeal to couples. This inevitably goes horribly wrong.” Politically correct porn about love ends up with laughably dull scenarios, offering commentary on the fantasy aspect of pornography.
Surprisingly, Jane never cuts herself free from the weight of Dick. During a scene where it seems the two are destined for marriage, Jane narrates a scene from the novel in which the princess wonders why she would stay with someone who treats her so badly, realizing that by following her fantasies she has lead herself down a path to her own destruction.
Dirty Little Machine’s willingness to tackle taboo subject matters makes it immensely compelling; never once does the play lull. The source of much of the play’s laughter is Dick’s idiotic commentary, of which actor Ben Mann milks every possible laugh with his comedic skill. The talent of both performers, as well as director Nathan Schwartz, fully brings the play to life despite a small stage and a bare bones set, making ample use of their limited space. A clever use of sound effects also fill in for the minimal use of props. The immense talent of this trio is perhaps best shown during such difficult to re-create scenes as a threesome with an invisible party. Miranda Huba's script is both hilarious and fantastical as well as timely and relevant in our voyeuristic, porn-saturated era. Dirty Little Machine is a highly original, thought-provoking work that explores sexuality and how we connect with each other within a voyeuristic culture.
(Dirty Little Machine plays at St. Luke’s Theater, 85 East 4th Street, through June 4, 2011. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8PM. Tickets are $15-$18 and are available at www.horseTRADE.info or by calling 212.868.4444.)