nytheatre.com review by David DelGrosso
August 14, 2007
Lynne Topping Farrell's Hot Flashes very clearly delivers on the promise of its subtitle: "Four Women Talk About the Men in Their Lives." This is done in a series of alternating monologues interspersed with a few scenes. The women are Rachel, who is in a passionless marriage of 30 years and is flirting with the idea of cheating; Amy, a divorcee who is having trouble balancing dating with the demands of work and raising her children; and Meredith and Jo Anne, who have both recently been widowed by their self-destructive husbands—one who drank himself to death and another who took his own life in a more sudden and direct manner. Normally I would avoid summarizing female characters by just indicating their marital or parental status, but as the play is focused on discussing the men in their lives, it is hard not to describe them as they characterize themselves. Indeed, by the end of the play, I felt I had learned as much or more about Charlie, Hank, Harrison, Ed, George, and an unnamed would-be dream date, The Pediatrician, none of whom appears in the play.
Each of the women is on the verge of a life-changing decision, which I believe could be described as the realization that they don't need a man in their life for their life to be complete. Which is not, perhaps, as difficult of a calculus as it may sound, as what these women seem to have in common are lives filled with men that are selfish, insensitive and, in some cases, willfully destructive. Well, to be fair, George sounds nice enough. But I think we are supposed to root for Jo Anne to not marry him anyway. Now I will fully acknowledge that this may be a defensive posture on my part as it is hard for me not to review the play as, well, a man. But I do think the dramatic stakes would have been higher if these women were resisting the cultural pressure to define themselves according to men if there were at least a few decent men crossing their paths from time to time. For example, wouldn't Rachel's desire for romance outside her marriage be all the more fraught if her husband was making even half an effort? Could there not be harder stuff for Jo Anne to work through in front of us if she had some part in her husband's alcoholism other than nobly suffering him all those years until he died? All four of these women are, from their first moments with us to their last lines, in the right. They have not yet made the right choices for themselves, but I feel that their rightness is so unquestionable that all that is left for us to do is wait for them to make those better decisions.
The production features an excellent ensemble of actresses and while I am not a fan of the alternating monologue format, it helps that each of these women has her own energy, style, and relationship with the audience, which helps each story shift feel like an entrance. Director Michael Page has staged the play with a crisp utility and he handles the tone shifts from speech to scene simply and well.
The monologues that Farrell has written are insightful and vivid in their details. Though her characters tell compelling stories on their own, I wish there were more and longer scenes between them. I was disappointed that the characters that are the most distant from each other in personality and experience did not have more time to interact and perhaps challenge each other. Which would have allowed the evening to be less of an exploration and more of a play.