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Hot Season

Theatre Review by Howard Miller

Mike Mihm and Heather Lupton Rasche
Photo by Jessica Bashline.

What is your favored anxiety-driven end-of-world scenario? There certainly is no shortage of possibilities—from global climate change to the threat of terrorism to (literally) one of today's headlines in The New York Times: "Lapse Sets Off Anthrax Scare For Scientists At C.D.C. Labs".

For playwright Evan Mueller and the characters in his play Hot Season, now on view at the Sheen Center, it is an outbreak of a deadly and highly contagious virus. To escape, a group of five have loaded up a couple of cars and fled to a rustic cabin in the woods, where they intend to lay low through the summer in the belief that the first frost will kill off the disease and allow them to return to their lives. The play depicts both the daily stresses of living with others in close quarters and the underlying anxiety of the situation that brought them to the cabin in the first place.

Mr. Mueller, who is also an actor, theater instructor, and cofounder with Jessica Bashline of the play's producing company Strange Sun Theater, draws on some of the classic images of genre films about catastrophic viral epidemics, but don't go looking for pseudo-scientific explanations, visitors from outer space, or zombie attacks here. Hot Season is disturbingly realistic and plausible, as are the performances by the excellent cast under the direction of Kevin J. Kittle.

With the exception of a perhaps-justifiable but nevertheless jarring fight between two of the characters near the end of the play, Hot Season reveals information about the deadly threat in measured bits and pieces, sometimes through dialog about losses suffered, and sometimes through short announcements on a radio that is used very sparingly in order to protect its batteries. In between, the characters spend their time fending off boredom, physical discomfort, unwelcome contact with the co-existing mosquitoes, toads, and crickets, and their own increasing jumpiness.

The cast is uniformly strong: Michael Satow as Jacob, the man with the plan to keep everyone alive and well; Heather Lupton Rasche as Anne, Jacob's kind-hearted and fun-loving mom; Mike Mihm as Dan, Jacob's closest friend, a cut-up with a penchant for adolescent humor; Kristen Harlow as Natalie, Dan's wife, alternatively irritated and bored; and Kenzi Nothnagel as Marla, who has tagged along for safety. As we come to know these characters as individuals, we do start to worry about what might happen to them, and, ultimately, what might happen to us if what is being depicted should actually come to pass.

Hot Season
Through June 28
The Blackbox Theater, The Sheen Center, 18 Bleecker Street corner of Bleecker and Elizabeth
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: OvationTix

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