Thursday, November 23, 2017

114 (2017-2018): Review: HOT MESS (seen November

“Regretosexual  Redux”

Hot Mess, a laugh-every-20-minutes romantic comedy at the Jerry Orbach Theater, isn’t a hot mess in what’s probably that phrase’s most common meaning, something that looks great no matter how messed up it is. It’s simply a middling, hour-long effort—more a series of sketches—about a couple of struggling, young, Los Angeles standup comedians. Their pairing is roughly autobiographical, being based on the relationship of the play’s husband and wife writers, Dan Rothenberg and Colleen Crabtree, whose earlier, two-character version was called Regretosexual
Lucy DeVito, Max Crumm. Photo: Jeremy Daniel.
The premise is simple: Max Beigle (Max Crumm), is a Jewish guy who’s been on the wagon for ten years; Elanor (Lucy DeVito), who had a traumatic childhood, puts her faith in a shaman. Once they’ve opened up to each other about their pasts, what they’ve said is largely forgotten except that Elanor remains prone to “crashing” when confronted by certain triggers. The fear of pulling such a trigger prevents Max from revealing his deepest secret, that he’s bisexual and has had sex with men. That’s all there is, folks.

After opening with a post-coital scene of Max and Elanor in bed—using the tiresomely familiar fly-on-a-ceiling technique of having them stand against a vertical bed—the play, intended to reflect Max’s memories, moves on to various LA locations. All are implied within the confines of Tobin Ost’s simple, unit set of a cabaret-like space, its upstage wall lined with revolving mirror-doors, its perimeter dotted with cocktail tables and lamps.
Lucy DeVito, Max Crumm. Photo: Jeremy Daniel.
Every time Max is ready to spill the beans, Elanor says something that bottles him up again, thus creating what little suspense the play can muster. When he finally offers his big reveal, the lights go red, Elanor loses it, and nuttiness rules as she crashes big time. Eventually, all works out and we fast forward to a surprise ending (hint: Jewish music is playing) around 13 or so years later.

For filler, we have Max sharing his problems with his buddy, Lewis (Paul Molnar, on target), a scruffy, potty-mouthed, cynical comedian, who offers advice both emotional and professional. Molnar also portrays Steve, Max’s swishy former lover who creates a dilemma for Max when he runs into him and Elanor at a movie.
Paul Molnar, Max Crumm. Photo: Jeremy Daniel.
Crisply staged by the Keen Company’s Jonathan Silverstein, Hot Mess offers a glimpse into the life of standup comics, which TV shows, like “Seinfeld,” HBO’s “Crashing,” and others, have made household subjects. For a play about comics, the humor—for all its reliance on raunch and a running joke about whether Max ever took it up the you-know-where—doesn’t rise above that on any sitcom.
Lucy DeVito, Max Crumm, Paul Molnar. Photo: Jeremy Daniel.
If you think a guy calling his girlfriend “Poopy Pants” is a gut buster, this show’s for you. Others, I imagine, are offering sympathy laughs, the kind you force to make the actors feel better. Such would seem to be the response, for example, to the fart-filled poetry Elanor improvises when Max wants to prove to Lewis how hilarious she is. Even in the climactic scene, when Max tries to work out his problems by describing his dilemma in an off-the-cuff, open-mic set, material that should kill is already D.O.A.
Lucy DeVito, Max Crumm. Photo: Jeremy Daniel.
Crumm (who, notably, landed the role of Danny Zuko in a Broadway revival of Grease via a TV contest) and DeVito (TV’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”), acquit themselves well enough, considering their uninspiring material. He, though, is less of a natural comic than she, a cute, diminutive performer blessed with the rib-tickling genes of Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman.

That said, Hot Mess remains anything but one.


Jerry Orbach Theater
210 W. 50th St., NYC
Open Run