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Andrew Hinderaker goes 3-for-3 with ‘Dirty’

Michael Patrick ThorntHillary Clemens star 'Dirty' Gift Theatre.

Michael Patrick Thornton and Hillary Clemens star in "Dirty" at the Gift Theatre.

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When: Through Nov. 18

Where: The Gift Theatre, 4802 N. Milwaukee

Tickets: $25-$30

Info: (773) 283-7071;

Updated: October 21, 2012 2:24PM

Perhaps more than any playwright now at work, Chicago’s Andrew Hinderaker has his finger on the pulse of our time in terms of our bedeviled (and bedeviling) relationship to capitalism and, by extension, the American dream.

Hinderaker, whose newest play, “Dirty” — a tale of pornography, philanthropy and ruthless risk-taking, now receiving a blistering world premiere by The Gift Theatre — writes contemporary morality plays with corkscrew twists. He is a master at spinning stories marked by a heightened sense of realism, extreme yet plausible premises and sharply etched characters. And his fearsome feel for finance and money-hunger, along with his switchblade-sharp sense of humor, seal the deal.

In “Suicide, Incorporated” (which began at The Gift, and has already been produced in New York and beyond), he imagined a bizarre company whose specialty was the drafting of suicide notes. In “I Am Going to Change the World” (which debuted at Chicago Dramatists), he chronicled the psychic breakdown of a success-driven, working class business school grad. And now, in “Dirty,” Hinderaker (who already has a commission from New York’s prestigious Roundabout Theatre), plays an intriguing game of “How low will you go?” while salving your conscious with do-goodism. When, he wonders, do the means not simply obliterate the ends, but make a total mockery of them?

Hinderaker is quite the storyteller, using his principal character, Matt (Michael Patrick Thornton, a bravura actor who just happens to use a wheelchair), to take us on a journey into hell.

When we first meet him, Matt, who grew up poor, is a trader in the much-detested field of “distressed securities.” He is happily married to Katie (the adorable, playfully sexy Hillary Clemens), a bourgeois liberal with feminist ideals, who nevertheless happily shares her husband’s enjoyment of porno films.

Katie is in the early months of pregnancy when her husband suddenly ditches his job and his cut-throat boss, Terry (the marvelously smarmy Paul D’Addario), in favor of what he believes will make him a real fortune. The idea? Create a non-exploitative porn film website featuring “real women of legal age,” and (to get Katie on board, along with millions of other bleeding heart web-surfers), make it clear that a vast portion of the profits will be funneled into a foundation that will protect girls caught up in sex trafficking.

Of course not everything goes as planned. The terror of financial wipe-out results in a series of dramatic compromises. The competition rears its ugly head. And a brainy, multi-cultural stunner, Mikayla (the dazzling Mouzam Makkar), walks through the door, with a readymade bio. Under the name “Amerika,” she is seen as the sizzling hot property that will make the new company pop. But everyone grows desperate and greedy, and things get very complicated.

Jonathan Berry, an ideal director of Hinderaker’s work, gets the tone and tempo precisely right thanks to his superb cast, which also includes Darci Nalepa and Cyril Smith as porn actors, Tom Hickey as an impossibly oily porn king, and Atra Asdou as Mikalya’s younger sister.

Not everything is perfect here. There is an all-too-trendy piling on of anti-Americanism (just consider the real underage sex traffickers of Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia). And the play’s final scene is confusing, even if you get the gist.

But “Dirty” (which contains a gorgeously “clean” scene in which Thornton and Clemens finger a Jimi Hendrix tune together on a guitar), might well become this generation’s “Glengarry Glen Ross.” To be sure, it it certainly will not be swept under the rug.

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