A late report on the aptly titled ‘White Hot’ at the Flea Theater

whitehot1When the very adventurous Flea Theater in downtown Manhattan posts a warning about the sexual content of a play, you know you are in for something a little rough.

“White Hot” by Tommy Smith is playing in the intimate downstairs space through May 26 and it is, indeed, an unsparing view of contemporary relationships — male-female and sister-sister — which makes no attempt to soften the blow(s).

There is no such thing as TMI in the conversation between Lil (Janice Amaya) and Sis (Jamie Bock) that opens the play.

The married and pregnant Lil listens to her sister describe her latest sexual encounter in which the woman’s masochistic desires were more than satisfied by an anonymous man who posed at first as a Russian immigrant but whose accent kept slipping the more they talked.

Role-playing is at the center of Sis’ sex life and she tells Lil that seeing through poses and lies adds to her thrills: “I love when people lie to me. I love the moment when I figure it out. I’m like, there, I got white hot justice on my side.”

After we hear what many of us would view as a sexual nightmare scenario, the seemingly square and content Lil shocks us more than Sis did by asking for the man’s phone number.

The next scene reveals that Lil is married to a passive aggressive academic, Bri (Bradley Anderson), who is as abusive to his wife verbally as Sis’ pick-up was physically.

Lil calls her sister’s nightmare man, Greg (Sean McIntyre), and he proves to be as horrible in person as he sounded in Sis’ opening monolgue.

The playwright admits his own deviance from mainstream, emotionally comforting theater by having Bri express the anger he feels when he reads nihilistic, life-unaffirming stories — Bri could be talking about “White Hot.”whitehot

The Flea describes the play well on its website — “…an epic portrait of self-destruction. A brutal comedy about how cruel we can be to the ones we love, when we want what they have.”

There is something bracing about Smith’s refusal to make his dark material more palatable to the audience.

After sitting through so many movies and TV shows (and plays) that feel like they have been manufactured to keep us in a vapid fantasy world, it is refreshing to encounter a writer willing to confront us with people and situations that challenge our illusions.

Courtney Ulrich has directed “White Hot” in a simple unadorned style that connects us directly to what we see and hear. And the quartet of actors is superb — going as far as the material demands in ways that keep us off-balance for the entire play.

(For more information, visit www.theflea.org)