There are a few different layers of meaning to the title of Charlotte Winters's new play, Anticipating Heat, which Studio 42 is presenting at the 45th Street Theater.
First, Heat is the name of one of the play's characters. Specifically, that's Heat Christiansen (Blake Longacre), a writer who had great success with his first novel and has returned home to Copenhagen to write his next book, a collection of post-modern fairy tales. (Yes, the comparison of Heat with Hans Christian Andersen is made within the play.) While attempting to work, he must contend with three women he's known for years: his editor Lone (Erin Logemann), Lone's cousin Margrethe (Jen Wineman), and Lone's sister Birgitte (Devon Berkshire).
All the women are, in some way, attracted to Heat for either his looks or his talent, and each has intimate contact of some sort with him over the course of the play. (Knock off another couple of definitions of "heat.") And, of course, as the play progresses and their rivalries become more and more, well, heated, they must contest for Heat's attention and affection until he either chooses one of them or chooses no one.
Despite these complications, the show is less than optimally thermal when dealing with these relationships. Longacre is a likable enough performer, but is never developed much on his own beyond a few familiar clichés he spouts about writing and inspiration. Of the three actresses, the only one who has any palpable chemistry with him is Wineman; Longacre can kindle up a fire in her that melts the icy, rigid façade she hides behind throughout much of the play. As Margrethe is both a central figure and considerably less flamboyant than the other women, it's a transformation we can and do care about.
In general, it's when focusing on the relationships between the women and not on Heat himself that Winters's writing is truly strongest. (One can't help but wonder if she originally conceived the play as a three-hander for the women, with Heat added into the main action only later; his scenes feel about that extraneous.) Once the effect of Heat on the women's lives has dissipated and the three women are allowed to deal with each other on their own terms, the play feels entirely different and more interesting, as if its real purpose - and Winters's true talent - is at last unlocked.
Of course, all this happens very late in the play, and there's a fair amount of relationship talk, harsh words, and flighty emotions exchanged between the women before then. There's also a good deal of insight into the creative process, whether writing (from Heat) or dancing and acting (from Birgitte), though the performers often appear uncomfortable delivering it, for perhaps obvious reasons: that's not the real story Winters is interested in telling. While a fair amount of Winters' dialogue feels forced, when the women really unify, it's nothing less than pitch perfect.
The production itself is strong, with Ria Cooper providing brisk direction, allowing ten scenes to pass in what feels like the blink of an eye. Harry C. Rosenblum's set and Kevin J. Hardy's lights allow quick transitions between Lone and Margrethe's house and Heat's flat, while Eric DeArmon's sound design always helps keep the energy up. Still, that's not always quite enough. While Anticipating Heat's last scenes feel as warm and fulfilling as a cup of hot chocolate on a cold winter morning, it seems as if the other scenes never have quite enough heat to go around.