Pornography

A product of 2008’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Pornography takes place in the hours before the July 2005 London Underground bombings.

Steep Theatre Company Chicago

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The provocative title is “a bit of a red herring,” said Hedy Weiss in the Chicago Sun-Times. British playwright Simon Stephens is less interested in the commodification of sex than in widespread social alienation, a blight he’s able to depict as a “far subtler and more complex” threat. A product of 2008’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Pornography is set in the hours before the July 2005 London Underground bombings, focusing on “a cross-section of people who might (or might not) be caught up in the horrors.” These include a woman who sabotages the company she works for (“the excellent Kendra Thulin”), two siblings who commit incest (Caroline Neff and Walter Briggs), and a suicidal former scholar. There is also an ordinary-looking young man with a backpack, “played with ideal understatement by John Taflan,” who remains “preternaturally calm” until he carries out the attack.

Stephens’s apparent message here is deeply disturbing, said Tony Adler in the Chicago Reader. He sets up a kind of continuum between the bomber and the play’s other socially alienated souls, portraying them as two sides of the same coin. But “can you really draw a line from, say, the corporate saboteur to a mass murderer?” The implication that the other characters’ crimes and indiscretions somehow caused the attack is “creepier still.” But this staging offers “nothing but smart, clear-eyed performances” and is so full of insight, it’s impossible not to admire. “It’s worth something to be so unsettled.”

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