WHITE HOT & COOL, Stage IV Productions, at North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie. In this forgettable new work, Bernie Landis plays a louder-than-life 70-year-old curmudgeon, pumping badly needed power into Lenny Hodera’s alternately affecting and frustrating portrait of a defiant patriarch and his divided family. At its best, White Hot & Cool movingly depicts a crusty survivor, Nick, sourly dismissing a world he hardly recognizes. Forced out of his tool-and-die business, he quarrels strenuously with the son who canned him but finds comfort in visits from his idealistic grandson.
Affecting as Hodera’s angry elegy can be, it’s marred by his not-so-secret agenda. Nick and his son Chester are mere mouthpieces for the playwright’s biases against government regulation of small businesses, especially regarding affirmative action and workplace conditions–intrusions, the characters argue, that threaten to reduce us to a “service-industry nation.” The grandson’s introduction of a black girlfriend triggers a gratuitous rant from Nick against egalitarian programs and the supposed misuse of the term “African-American.”
As directed by the magisterial William Pullinsi, Landis is a scenery-chewing force of nature, ranging from foxy grandpa to Old Testament prophet. Kevin Heckmann listens well as the impressionable grandson, and Mike Hughes rages on cue as apoplectic Chester. But watch out for that agenda. –Lawrence Bommer