by Nita Congress · August 12, 2014
Don’t let the jocular subtitle fool you. This isn’t a cutesy in-joke about the inconveniences of New York apartment living. Playwright Laura Pittenger has created a thoughtful, thought-provoking set of slice-of-lifes, and populated them with real people an audience can (and will) care about.
Cleverly divided into two acts of three two-character playlets each—The A/C Plays and The Heater Plays—the sixty-five-minute piece introduces us to six characters in a terribly managed apartment house, suffering through, first, no air conditioning in August, and then no heat in December.
We meet Paul and Jane first. She bemusedly watches him, a floor below, trying to avoid his apartment’s heat by sleeping on the fire escape. After some needling and nettling, they drop their defenses and share a quite lovely moment, which is subtly and sweetly acted by a lovable Josh Henderson-Cox and Gabrielle Adkins; Adkins in particular brings real depth and dimension to her part, layering Jane with a rich complexity. The wintertime conclusion of their story in Act Two is equally well done, and most affecting.
Michael and Nina are up next. A married couple with a baby on the way, they have lots of issues besides just a broken air conditioner/heater. Zak Wilson and Evelyn Peralta make a vibrant impression in their portrayal of the pair.
Lastly, we meet Ilya, a recent Russian immigrant, and the funny and flirty Beatrice. Ilya, an outsider and an observer, delivers the play’s closing scene, pointing up and pondering on the links between our environmental and psychic comfort as we couple and uncouple. “Cold plus cold. It cannot make warm,” he explains, going on to voice a personal plea riffing on the playwright’s own statement in the program notes: “Sometimes all we can do is wait for the spring to save us.” Alex Herrald makes Ilya a nicely textured character, awkward and geeky in Act One and perceptive and passionate in Act Two. And Abigail Ludrof’s Beatrice is decent and forthright; that might not be enough, just as in real life, to guarantee success in love.
Well written, well acted, and charmingly staged by director Cassandra West (I will not give away the simple, effortless way in which summer turns into winter), The HVAC Plays is smart, funny, sensitive, and sweet.