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Photograph: Joshua LongbrakeMichael Patrick Thornton and Hillary Clemens in Dirty at the Gift Theatre

Dirty at the Gift Theatre | Theater review

Andrew Hinderaker’s new play about socially conscious porn has flashes of satiric cleverness, but its characters’ actions feel forced.


As he’s demonstrated in recent works like [node:83565 link=Suicide, Incorporated;] at the Gift and [node:15410786 link=I Am Going to Change the World;] at Chicago Dramatists, local playwright Andrew Hinderaker has a knack for mining current moods and mores for up-to-the-second scenarios. He puts his characters in extreme situations that skate the line between improbable and plausible. His latest, Dirty, returns to this recipe with its premise of a disillusioned derivatives trader’s big idea: ethical porn.

Saying “there’s a way to be dirty without being gross,” Matt (Michael Patrick Thornton) convinces his pregnant and skeptical wife, Katie (Hillary Clemens)—a women’s-rights activist who also enjoys pornography—to give his plan a shot. They agree on a few ground rules: no actors under 25, no schoolgirl scenarios, and a chunk of their profits will go toward philanthropy, in the form of a center to combat human trafficking to be run by Katie. It’s pornography for the liberal-guilt Whole Foods crowd, Matt says, and lo and behold, it’s a success, until a too-good-to-be-true aspiring actress walks in. Mikayla (Mouzam Makkar) is gorgeous, of ambiguous ethnicity, down for the cause—and 20 years old. Will breaking “rule number one,” as Katie calls it, send down a slippery slope?

Hinderaker’s conceit allows for some solid satire, particularly in Matt’s direct-address monologues. Thornton and Clemens craft a spiky, appealing spousal dynamic. But for all the bright ideas flying around in Jonathan Berry’s well-acted production, Hinderaker’s plotting feels a bit too implausible this time—particularly the dirty trick that fuels the climax.

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