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Cold Town/Hotline can’t overcome its preposterous premise

If there’s a workable drama within the rambling, under-rehearsed confines of playwright/director Eli Newell’s Cold Town/Hotline, it hasn’t yet emerged. This is one of those shows where the plot wouldn’t exist if any single character behaved in any way remotely resembling human reality. Newell would have us believe that a group of adults volunteering at a counseling hotline would be so frightened by a prepubescent 11-year-old’s ridiculously awful “karate” moves that they’d allow themselves to be held hostage by said child. They do this even though they know the kid has run away from home. They do this even though the kid’s father has just called the hotline, frantic because his child has run away during a storm so violent the roads are closed and so cold mere minutes outside can give you frostbite.

Do they call the father, who they know is out of his mind with fear? No. Do they call the police to report that the kid has run away? Do they insist the kid call home? No. Instead, they cower and panic—and eventually embark on a Breakfast Club-reminiscent montage of dancing/joking/bonding, minus the humor and the charm of The Breakfast Club. The advice these sitcommy attempts at characters give isn’t just bad, it’s file-a-lawsuit bad. Newell’s direction follows the more-is-more school of performance: Characters are defined by exaggerated tics rendered with hemispheric broadness of the Three’s Company school of comedy. Cold Town/Hotline does make one valid point: it’s rarely a good idea to direct a show you also wrote.  v

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