'Hot Mess' Spices Up Loeb Ex
Intricate staging and solid acting do justice to British writer Ella Hickson’s new piece.
Relationships on an island five miles long by two miles wide might get a bit incestuous. Indeed, the tied-up relationships between the four characters of Ella Hickson’s “Hot Mess,” showing at the Loeb Ex from March 1 to 3, deal with a smorgasbord of sex, death, and love that borders on inappropriate sibling affection. With smooth execution, devoted acting, and highly interwoven technical specifics, “Hot Mess” transcends its misleadingly juvenile title to become a profound fashioning of universal issues.
Siamese twins Polo (Bryan D. Kauder ’14) and Twitch (Emily B. Hyman ’13) were separated at birth, and in dubious execution of his Hippocratic oath, the doctor bestowed Twitch with the one beating heart. Thus, Polo is incapable of loving and Twitch is incapable of keeping her love in check. When vacationer Billy (Ben J. Lorenz ’14) visits the island for the summer, Twitch invariably falls in love with him.
Both Kauder and Hyman excel at playing up their respective dearth and overflow of emotion. Hyman’s facial expressions oscillate wildly throughout the play, from donning a sort of psychotic smile when narrating her relationship with Billy to desperatly searching the face of her brother after he returns to the island from self-imposed exile. Kauder plays the reserved, cosmopolitan love interest with a subtlety that can only be appreciated by the end of the play. Commendable also is Lorenz’s air of amiable detachment as he becomes embroiled in the sibling’s strange circumstance as well as Twitch’s foil, Jacks (Darcy C. Donelan ’14), who uses sex to control her emotions instead of being overrun by them.
On the technical side, the light and sound mix well together—an especially nice touch is when lyrics of songs correlated with light schemes, such the use of bright yellow flood lights as Rihanna sings “yellow diamonds in the light” in her hit “We Found Love.” But when the technical elements are not so obviously clever, the mix of lighting coming from the glass- and-wood catwalk that runs through the Loeb Ex creates an ocean feel as blue lights illuminate the actors from above and below. Sound designer Caleb J. Thompson ’13, a Crimson arts writer, shuffles between more contemporary hits and some poignant classics—for example, when La Roux’s “In for the Kill” hits the lyric “Two hearts with accurate devotions / And what are feelings without emotions?” Polo and Twitch stare at each other in an ironic reminder that the two of them share only one heart. Sometimes the tension combined with pop hits seemed a bit contrived; however, these are just questionable moments in an otherwise strong production.
The play’s strongest technical aspect is its stage design. One long catwalk serves as the stage and is raised above the audience on either side. In the beach scenes, it serves as the sand, and in the club scenes it serves as the dance floor, which allows for not only efficient scene changes but also interaction between the actors and the crowd. For example, Jacks takes a brief haitus from Polo and Twitch’s screwed-up fairly tale word to ellicit sexual attention from the audience.
Director Joshua R. McTaggart ’13, a Crimson arts writer, deserves great credit for the smooth execution of what potentially could have been merely a mess. The combination of a script full of complex dialogue, an endless back-and-forth on the catwalk, the clever lighting, and the rich soundscape were executed without visible error, quite a feat for opening night. With such control over the main components of the play, McTaggart is able to add auxiliary elements—such as a bartender taking drink orders before the play began—in order to further entrench the light-hearted vibe. “Hot Mess” is, despite its name, not a mess at all. It is a well-organized production whose parts all coalese in a smart, funny take on love and sex
—Staff writer Christine A. Hurd can be reached at email@example.com