It’s only an hour long, and for 50 or so minutes, it’s not much good.
But the message that HOT MESS imparts at Minute 51 is a unique one and well worth hearing. It makes clear why Dan Rothenberg and Colleen Crabtree were inspired to write the comedy now at The Jerry Orbach Theater.
In his Playbill bio, Rothenberg states that he wrote an earlier version of HOT MESS with his wife – that’s Crabtree – and that it’s a “completely true story.
They’ve changed the names, though: Dan and Colleen have been repurposed as Max and Elanor. The playwrights decided to make each of them a stand-up comedian. That was a brave goal, for now Rothenberg and Crabtree would be required to write super-funny characters.
Elanor writes poems, one of which ends “When you fart, you touch my heart.” Max tells her “My penis is my GPS.” There’s talk of a cheese dildo and ping-pong balls being shot out of a vagina.
At one point Elanor says “I laughed so hard my acid reflux kicked up.”
That won’t happen to any audience members.
To be fair, Max admits he sees himself as “a mildly clever Jew.” When his friend Lewis decides to steal one of his gags, Max says “It would be an honor to have one of my jokes said on a stage.”
Actually, he gets a chance to air one of his own in which he reports there’s a reality show with the name “It’s Ten O’Clock. Do You Know Where Your Penis Is?”
There’s more mention of penis in HOT MESS, too. Where Max puts his is of more than moderate interest in this comedy, for that’s the conflict.
Max is okay about divulging that he’s an alcoholic, but he’s less willing to reveal that he’s a bisexual. And he is falling in love with Elanor.
So HOT MESS is one of those “I’ll-tell-her-tonight-oh-no-I-can’t” stories. Six months later, during which time Elanor’s professed her love, Max still hasn’t come clean.
A scene in which Max runs into old beau Steve promises high-voltage fireworks; here instead you get the wattage of birthday candles. However, one must concede that after Steve leaves, Max’s explanation to Elanor shows he more than “mildly clever” – for he isn’t lying when he says of Steve “He was such a dick to me.”
Max Crumm’s name was obviously written all over this role. Crumm, who’ll now and forever be remembered as Danny Zuko as a result of winning a TV contest, does a fine job as Max. He can’t be extraordinary in a role that doesn’t allow for much beyond anxiety. However, when the time comes for him to have his Minute 51 showdown with Elanor, he delivers his solidly valid point with the right amount of honesty and sincerity.
Elanor says that she’s tired of being “cutesy,” but we don’t tire of Lucy DeVito’s innate cutesiness. She’s considerably appealing all night long.
Paul Molnar plays both Lewis and Steve without terribly much differentiation between the two. Maybe he believes what Benay Venuta sang in her 11 o’clock number in HAZEL FLAGG: “People are all the same.”
Jonathan Silverstein gives a let-it-be pacing. But a play that’s only an hour long? While assessing art in financial terms should never be the be-all and end-all, many theatergoers who find themselves out on the street after 60 minutes may feel they didn’t get much for their $77-$123.
HOT MESS could justify its brevity if there weren’t more story to be told. Near the end, the action flash-forwards 14 years. Fine, but that means 5,113 days when many things happened, almost happened or could have happened to Max and Elanor. Considering that Rothenberg and Crabtree have been married since 2001, we can’t excuse them for not telling us more. It’s one thing for a character to have the dilemma of “I’ll-tell-her-tonight-oh-no-I-can’t” but the playwrights shouldn’t have decided on “We’ll-tell-the-audience-tonight-oh-no-we-won’t.”