Laura Eason’s winsome adaptation improves on Elizabeth Crane’s neurotic narrators by having them interact with each other.
By Ellen Wernecke
The most honest way to describe Elizabeth Crane’s captivating book of short stories, 2004’s When the Messenger Is Hot, is that it deals with the classic topics of chick lit—trouble with parents, emotional dissatisfaction, the search for Mr. Right—without resorting to the clichés of the genre. Her heroines don’t wear Manolo Blahniks and walk their pugs; they have weaknesses for “boy-men” and often have trouble seeing the forest for the trees, but don’t chronicle their weight in diaries or execute pratfalls in front of their office crushes.
These whimsical city girls are often a quarter-turn off of normal, seeing ghosts or deciding to relocate to a friend’s roof, but they never get so precious as to seem forced. Steppenwolf Theatre’s production of a new play adapted from several of the stories captures Crane’s tone brilliantly, while giving her narrators a stage-ready twist. While the book in its digressive, first-person form seems better suited to a series of monologues, “When The Messenger Is Hot” uses a three-woman chorus in cardigans for its heroine, Josie. Josie’s mother, an opera singer, has died of cancer, but she believes Mom isn’t really dead against all logic and reason. When Mom reappears suddenly, she no longer has reason to put her life on hold, as comforting as that sounds.
Because of Crane’s language and the interaction among the Josies—the young and naive (Kate Arrington), the mature and suspicious (Lauren Katz), and the eternally optimistic (Amy Warren), “When the Messenger is Hot” strikes a sprightly tone with this often dark, material. Her run-on sentences here become dialogues, leading to clever set pieces like Josie’s move to Chicago, where two Josies shout up from the back seat to the third next to Mom. She falls in love with a series of unsuitable men (all played, impressively, by Coburn Goss), but she can’t seem to put together the disparate strands of her life as well as the play depicts her tripartite personality. What follows is a short and sweet show that juggles laughs and terrible pain.
”When the Messenger Is Hot”
Through October 28, Steppenwolf Theatre Company
59E59, Theatre B
For tickets, visit TicketCentral.com or 59E59.org.
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