Jamie Bock and Bradley Anderson in WHITE HOT. Photo by Hunter Canning.
BOTTOM LINE: This dark comedy is appealing and often laugh-inducing in its exploration of violence and depravity.
What does one have left when one has lost all hope in life? That is the question at the heart of the black comedy White Hot, now playing at The Flea. It is a question posited multiple times by the script. The three characters within the play have all lost hope in some way, living lost existences.
In a Seinfeldian way the characters speak in long, rambling, self-absorbed, speed-of-lightning rants about their own damaged perceptions of themselves and the world as a whole. The clever lines and quips are delivered so hurriedly by the actors that occasionally some of the most clever lines are delivered without being fully heard by the audience (I went through and read a copy of Tommy Smith’s script and wound up laughing even more than I did during the actual performance.)
The play opens with a character simply known as Sis (Jamie Bock) telling her sister Lil (Janice Amaya) about the brutal sexual encounter, involving both blood and vomit, that she just had with a mysterious Ukrainian man. Sis seems to have no direction or purpose in her life and her days seem to consist of little else than smoking pot, getting drunk, having meaningless sex and making sarcastic comments. By all appearances Lil, donning a university sweater and knitting while her sister speaks, would seem to be the more together one, as she has a husband and baby on the way. Lil however, despite being sweeter than Sis, is also troubled in her own way. She sometimes hears things that aren’t there, punches herself in the face until she is bleeding, pops mysterious prescription drugs, and gives mention to a drug addiction in the past. She also is a willing participant in her nitwit husband Bri's (Bradley Anderson) emotional abuse. Despite expressing what seems to be initial disapproval, Lil surprises the audience by requesting the Ukranian man’s number from Sis, hinting at a darker need that isn’t being met. Sis resists at first, saying that her need for the Ukranian man comes from her emptiness, “He’s temporary like rain. I can get by on that because, well, there’s nothing inside me, there’s an echo and that’s it and you can fill an echo but you can’t hold it or keep it or get it to visit your parents.”
When Bri arrives at Sis’s apartment to inquire about Lil, Sis explains her reason for living despite her lack of interest in anything by saying, “I’m here. That’s about all I can say. I tried to do it once. You know, tried to off myself but it just wasn’t right. I don’t think I did it right.” Late,r after some realistic smelling marijuana is smoked, Bri is stabbed in the thigh and blood is spilled, and the two humorously copulate in a particularly hilarious scene with each donning a knitted animal hat made by Lil, while Bri recites the capitals of cities to prolong his performance.
As one would guess from the play’s start, things don’t end well for these depraved characters, although there’s plenty to laugh at along the way as these three train wrecks finally crash. The play’s ending feels a bit premature, and I almost expected a second act to follow. I would love to see this work fleshed out into a longer piece, as the appealingly disturbed characters held my interest from start to finish. As is, the storyline felt a bit incomplete and I wanted to see more from these characters. With a slightly slower delivery from the actors, the darkly funny script might be able to be fully appreciated by the audience. Nonetheless, these self-centered characters and their appalling exploits kept the audience laughing. This show's late night time slot and sale of beer might make it a perfect start to a night out on the town.
(White Hot plays at The Flea Theater, 41 White Street between 8th and 9th Avenues, through May 26, 2013. Performances are Mondays at 7PM; Fridays and Saturdays at 10PM; and Sundays at 7PM. Tickets are $15-$30 and are available at theflea.org or by calling 866.811.4111. For more show info visit theflea.org.)