theater (reviews)

review: white hot black comedy

White Hot Black Comedy

By Cate Plys and Carly Figliulo
Directed by Marissa McKown
A We’ll Show Them Theater production
At Athenaeum Theatre
2936 N. Southport Avenue
Chicago, IL
Running time 2 hours with 1 intermission

Through April 23, 2006

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
March 10, 2006

White Hot Black farce/comedy has moments

Five women who are connected by family ties and old jobs journey from Chicago to western Michigan for annual trips to a summer home and on the way describe their adventures during the year: the good, the bad, and the ugly.   We join them on several of these journeys in Cate Plys and Carly Figliulo’s new play, the first production of We’ll Show Them Theater company.  In the process, we meet some multi-layered women and the women and men in their lives.  We also encounter extraneous violence and brandished guns, and these details derail what might have been a stronger and more cohesive theatrical experience.

The public relations line for this show is that is “a cross between SEX AND THE CITY and PULP FICTION.  This line, calling for comparisons to a recent TV series featuring smart, successful urban female buddies and an older movie fueled by testosterone laden energies simultaneously and problematically evoking humor and violence highlights the piece’s greatest strengths and greatest weaknesses.

The core of WHITE HOT SEX COMEDY is the discussions among the women we get to know: Casey (Jessica McCloud), the white married working mom; Melissa (Denise Storey), the biracial married woman whose husband has a drug problem; Celeste (Lorren A. Cotton), the executive from out-of-town connected to the group as a cousin of Casey’s; Jackie (Kyle Cadotte), a white friend of Casey’s who joins the group midway through the first act; and Nora (Kelly Bolton), a white lesbian who was an old work colleague of several of the characters.  The discussions among these friends take place in the car on the way to Michigan, in the Michigan house, in the local small town restaurant as they plan their vacation wanderings to yard sales and other points of interest.

This play is on strong ground when the action of the play stems from these discussions, even theatrically and delightfully breaking from the friends’ storytelling for each character one by one to actually enact select stories they are relating with other characters in their lives in another part of the stage while continuing their conversations with the friends back in the car.  When the action of the play wanders off into the plot lines that follow Melissa’s drug addicted husband, his dealers, and others, the play drags. (Full disclosure: I am not a PULP FICTION fan.)  Resolving many plot threads near the play’s end with a “deus ex machina” surprise character revelation and an unbelievable cash transaction does not strengthen the play.

Jessica McCloud and Denise Storey evolve as the core of the friendships and the core of play.  Not only do they ride in the front seat on the car trips (shifting driving responsibilities at a key plot point), but their characters are given great speeches and moving arcs to travel.  The other characters’ back stories are not given (nor do they hold) the same power.

Performances worth special mention are Jessica McCloud’s Casey, Denise Storey’s Melissa (though she is burdened with carrying many PULP FICTION plot points), Kyle Cadotte’s Jackie (who inspires great empathy, evokes genuine laughs in some scenes despite having to lead the plot’s weak resolution), and Michael Pogue’s nuanced evocation of several distinct characters in the women’s lives.

The production is directed as a French farce at times, replete with slamming doors and careening characters, to the play’s detriment. When the action is focused on the friends and their stories, this play can shine.

Somewhat Recommended

© Martha Wade Steketee (March 10, 2006)

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