When the Messenger Is Hot

Laura Eason's adaptation of Elizabeth Crane's short story collection, "When the Messenger Is Hot," initially seems an over-familiar misfire but then redeems itself in its later stages.

Josie 1 - Kate Arrington Josie 2 - Lauren Katz Josie 3 - Amy Warren Mom - Molly Regan Man - Coburn Goss

Laura Eason’s adaptation of Elizabeth Crane’s short story collection, “When the Messenger Is Hot,” initially seems an over-familiar misfire but then redeems itself in its later stages. The script delivers yet another tale of a single gal with oh-so-quirky problems, and the production, traveling to Gotham from its Chicago run at Steppenwolf Theater, relies on confusing staging and dubious design. But then comes the finale — to be revealed here — which delivers enough emotional and creative surprises to give some power to this wisp of a dramedy.

Not that the first two-thirds of the show — which launches 59E59’s GoChicago festival — are bad per se. They’re just awfully familiar. Our heroine Josie tells us that her mother (Molly Regan), a salty-mouthed opera singer, has returned from the dead, and with that endpoint revealed, she takes us through the steps leading to Mom’s reappearance. We see spats that expose each woman’s idiosyncrasies, and we meet the stream of boyfriends (all played by Coburn Goss) who delight or confuse Josie as she tries to cope with her mother’s worsening cancer.

These specific events might be unique, but their manufactured sense of whimsy is not. Josie’s romantic foibles are generically cute, and her endless narration to the audience gets burdened with awkward attempts at cleverness.

Then there’s the casting gimmick. Josie is played by three actresses — Kate Arrington, Lauren Katz and Amy Warren — who share lines and wear the same sweater in three different colors. This conceit makes the production more overtly “theatrical,” but it mostly distracts from the narrative. Eason doesn’t give the Josies any discernible differences, and the thesps deliver interchangeable perfs. There’s no reason for them all to be there.

Nor is there a good reason for the trio to be dressed like rumpled college kids, their pastel sweaters matched with drawstring pants and ponytails. The script has Josie nearing 40, making it appear that costumer Debbie Baer wasn’t paying attention. (The actresses also look too young.)

Despite all this, Goss and Regan have an infectious good time with their oversized roles, and director Jessica Thebus keeps the airy affair moving quickly.

And then, out of nowhere, come the scenes that are more than just passable entertainment.

Soon after her mother returns, Josie realizes she didn’t come back at all. The resurrection is a desperate lie she has told herself to keep from facing loneliness. In a last attempt to prove the miracle happened, she stumbles toward a man who may have seen her mom in a bar. Unexpectedly, they dance.

At last, the show stops with the chatter. Two of the Josies disappear. For the entire length of a country song, two people connect in silence. Josie holds up a picture of her mother behind the man’s back, stares at it while she sways with him and starts to weep. The situation feels organic instead of fussily crafted.

When, during a subsequent promising date, Josie’s partner moves a vase of flowers that has sat untouched for the entire show, the suddenly activated prop seems to suggest her blooming chance at new love. But that isn’t what’s growing. Instead, it’s Josie’s ability to be content by herself.

Most stories about a single woman end with the reward of companionship, yet this one says she can be happy alone. As it makes this refreshingly unfamiliar argument, the show replaces tics and tricks with complicated emotion, and the effect is worth the wait.

Lauren Katz, left, Amy Warren and Katie Arrington all portray the same woman in ‘When the Messenger Is Hot,’ directed by Jessica Thebus.

Popular on Variety

When the Messenger Is Hot

59E59; 99 seats; $40 top

Production: A Steppenwolf Theater Company presentation of a play in one act by Laura Eason, adapted from the book by Elizabeth Crane. Directed by Jessica Thebus.

Creative: Sets, Marcus Stephens; costumes, Debbie Baer; lighting, J.R. Lederle; sound, Gregor Mortis; production stage manager, Jenny Deady. Opened Oct. 7, 2007. Reviewed Oct. 5. Running time: 1 HOUR, 15 MIN.

Cast: Josie 1 - Kate Arrington Josie 2 - Lauren Katz Josie 3 - Amy Warren Mom - Molly Regan Man - Coburn Goss

More Legit

  • Broadway-Breakfast-Split

    Variety to Celebrate Second Business of Broadway Breakfast With Thomas Schumacher, Diane Paulus and Diablo Cody

    Variety has announced the lineup for its second annual Business of Broadway breakfast presented by City National Bank. Joining the breakfast on Oct. 7 is the president and producer of Disney Theatrical Productions Thomas Schumacher, who will take part in the event’s keynote conversation. In his position, Thomas oversees the company’s worldwide stage productions, which [...]

  • Sue Wagner John Johnson

    Tony-Winning Producers Sue Wagner and John Johnson Announce New Venture, Wagner Johnson Productions

    Sue Wagner and John Johnson, seven-time Tony award-winning producers, announced Wednesday that they have embarked on a new theatrical business venture, Wagner Johnson Productions. Under the name, they will produce and general manage a wide scope of theater productions. One of Wagner Johnson Productions’ current projects is a musical rendition of “Almost Famous,” which will [...]

  • Sam Rockwell and Laurence Fishburne

    Sam Rockwell, Laurence Fishburne Starring in Broadway Revival of 'American Buffalo'

    Laurence Fishburne and Sam Rockwell will star in an upcoming Broadway revival of David Mamet’s “American Buffalo.” The show marks Rockwell’s first appearance on the Great White Way since his 2014 performance in the revival of Sam Shepard’s “Fool for Love.” The five-year absence saw him pick up an Oscar for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, [...]

  • Secret Derren Brown review

    Broadway Review: 'Derren Brown: Secret'

    Audiences love to be fooled, whether it’s with clever plotting with a twist, the arrival of an unexpected character or even a charming flimflam man with a British accent. The latter is Derren Brown, and he’s entertaining audiences for a limited run at the Cort Theatre, where he is playing head-scratching mind games and other [...]

  • Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica ParkerNew York

    Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker to Reunite on Broadway for 'Plaza Suite'

    Real-life couple Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker are hitting the Broadway stage again for a reboot of the late Neil Simon’s 1968 play “Plaza Suite.” The staging will mark the Broadway directorial debut of Tony award-winner John Benjamin Hickey. Set in New York City’s Plaza Hotel in Suite 719, “Plaza Suite” is comprised of [...]

  • Derren Brown

    Listen: Derren Brown Spills His Broadway 'Secret'

    Derren Brown has spent a lot of his career performing magic shows on theater stages — but he’ll be the first to tell you that magic usually doesn’t make for great theater. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “If you’re a magician of any sort, you can make stuff happen with a click of your [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content