The Dark Heart of Meteorology
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
September 22, 2009
The Dark Heart of Meteorology, the debut show for the young company The Assembly at Horse Trade Theater Group, is a delight, featuring a tour de force performance by the fine indie theater actor Richard Lovejoy and an exciting introduction to the work of talented playwright Stephen Aubrey. These are artists we want to hear more from in the future.
The play takes the unusual structure of a series of lectures given over the course of several months by Franklin Elijah White, the sometime weatherman for Channel 7 in Chicago who is now, apparently, sort of a meteorologist on the run, taking his peculiar message to diverse crowds, presumably wherever he can assemble a group to listen. Slides projected on the rear wall of the theatre set the time and locale for each scene: in one segment, we're in a middle school in Indiana; in another, we're in the basement of a church in Alexandria, Virginia.
White enters each scene in increasingly bedraggled fashion to conduct his lecture. He comes from a long line of meteorologists, he tells us, and his father in particular had extreme insight into the truth about the weather. "The Dark Heart of Meteorology" is, in fact, the title of a manuscript that his father left him after he died. I don't want to give too much away here, but Franklin has taken the traditional aim of the weatherman—to protect us, as he puts it, from nature—and taken it in a direction that is radical and odd and undoubtedly, in its way, entirely accurate. There is an apocalyptic element to it; and a lesson to be drawn from it as well.
Intertwined with Franklin's crusade about the weather is a more personal story, involving his mother and father, now both dead, and his girlfriend Sarah, from whom he is, at the moment, estranged. Aubrey does a good job relating the two strands of his tale, but I would have liked more detail filled in (and perhaps sooner in the play) to help us see where Franklin's obsession comes from and where it's leading him.
Video interludes (created by Alex Koch and Daniel Brodie) serve as transitions between the various lectures, as well as filling in some of the back story. They are humorous and effective. But a video montage near the piece's climax takes too much of the heavy lifting off the playwright's shoulders, letting some evocative images and music telegraph the desired emotions to us.
That said, Aubrey's script is tight and smart and insightful and often hilarious, and Jess Chayes's deft direction serves it well. Lovejoy is magnificent in the role, which requires him to be alternately addled, endearing, wise, and foolish. His physicality is splendid—near the beginning he has an altercation with a number of inanimate objects, notably an uncooperative umbrella, that ranks as spirited clowning of the first order. He also engages in some (presumably improvised) interplay with the audience that is especially charming.
On video and in voiceover, Audrey Crabtree makes some cameo appearances as Sarah. But this is very much Lovejoy's show, and it's a triumphant solo turn.
The Dark Heart of Meteorology is a great deal of fun, packed with lots of surprises and, notwithstanding its title, filled with a warm and loving heart of its own. It's a great opener for The Assembly's first season at Horse Trade, and certainly one of the welcome finds of this still-new theatre season.