In "Dirty," a West Coast premiere at the Zephyr, playwright Andrew Hinderaker balances precariously between soapbox and gutter. For the most part the play maintains its dramatic equilibrium, yet it sometimes stumbles, bruisingly, into didacticism.
The story unfolds as financial maven Matt (Max Lesser), outraged at the latest slimy directive of his boss, Terry (Lea Coco), quits his job. Desperate for a new direction, Max masterminds a new business model -- a "clean" porn website catering to the liberal elite that will kick back 90% of its profits to philanthropic outreaches.
Matt first must sell the idea to his wife, Katie (Anna Konkle), a dedicated feminist who is expecting their first child -- a girl, as irony would have it. Katie suspends her moral misgivings to join the company while Terry, who forks over the seed money for the venture, also comes on board.
The play mostly succeeds as a pungent examination of the human capacity for untrammeled rationalization. Like Noah Cross, these characters, given the right time and place, are capable of anything, and their progression down the slippery slope to soul-destroying compromise is a fascinating journey.
The problem lies in Hinderaker's stereotypical characterizations, especially Katie, an ideological purist whose feminist forebodings seem strikingly whiney, despite Konkle's best efforts to humanize her.
By contrast, Coco is bracingly brash as Terry, the rapacious opportunist who has no patience for ethical niceties. Lesser invests Matt with plenty of naturalistic authenticity, but cannot prevent his character from coming across as a gutless wonder whose unfaltering deference towards his wife seems more truckling than tender.
The cast includes Zuleyka Silver as a pulchritudinous porn star wannabe, Sumiko Braun as her younger sister, and Rob Belushi as the porn producer whose dirty dealing triggers a crisis. Director Shannon Cochran plays up the comical opportunities in Hinderaker's prolix narrative but can't avert the play's ultimate slide into preachiness.