Hot air rises

Hot Air

By Richard Willett
Directed by Eliza Beckwith
IRT New Directions
Samuel Beckett Theater (closed)
Review by Adrienne Onofri

Anyone who's ever suffered a heartbreak has probably been told: "You can't depend on someone else to make you happy." That aphorism doesn't hold much water if you're unhappy because someone you care about doesn't return your affections. But it is good advice for the characters in Hot Air, a compilation of four short plays by OOBR Award-winning playwright Richard Willett. In almost all the plays, the characters' unhappiness is caused by their own romantic illusions and missteps.

Take, for instance, Paul in Boys Will Be Boys. Paul is intrigued by his neighbor Sean but can't break free of his pornographic fantasies long enough to reach out to him, even after he learns that Sean has been a victim of gay bashing and AIDS. He doesn't seem to learn anything from the missed opportunity, either: The play ends with Paul sitting alone in the deceased Sean's apartment, leafing through a porno magazine.

Like Paul, the characters in Hot Air need a reality check. This play intersperses the reminiscences of Michael, who is mourning an ex-lover, with those of June and Danny, the girlfriend and boyfriend who now reside in the ex-lover's apartment. All three of them apparently feel their best romantic days are over, but while Michael is grieving over a botched--and now irredeemable--relationship, June and Danny are preoccupied with memories of high school. They have to help themselves if some adolescent sexual experience is interfering with their adult relationships.

The protagonist of the play 2B also sabotages his romantic prospects: he keeps canceling dates arranged by a dating service. It's only in the final piece of the program, Signature Required, that the characters seize the day -- and are rewarded with an unexpected love.

In all four plays, Willett has created sympathetic characters who deserve a more promising fate than they receive. The sensitive scripts show that the sting of loneliness and yearning is the same regardless of one's sex or sexuality. Willett brings originality and realism to what can be a one-dimensional genre by setting each looking-for-love tale within a larger plot that also has an emotional bearing on the characters and audience. In 2B, it's Fred's encounters with an irrational neighbor; in Hot Air, it's the bond that forms between Michael and Danny when Michael calls the apartment. These absorbing and somewhat enigmatic incidents make Hot Air a rich, compassionate work in spite of the melancholia that pervades it. The standout in a good cast was Charles Loffredo, who conveyed Michael's grief and desperation with tremendous poignancy.

(Also featuring Glen Williamson, Cindy Chesler, Michael T. Ringer, John Richard Thompson, Courtney Rohler, Chris Fletcher, Jim Sterling, Jamie Heinlein, and Patricia Randell. Set, Norma Rosewood; costumes, Kim Walker; lighting, Izzy Einsidler.)
Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 1998 Adrienne Onofri