The summer I moved to Chicago I rented an apartment without air conditioning. I thought I could deal with it. I thought wrong. You can’t focus on anything else when you’re that uncomfortable, and no amount of cold showers or cold beer can help. The main thing is, you can’t sleep. There I was, watching “Deliverance” at 2am in a puddle of sweat and thinking: How pathetic. It gave me a real appreciation for anyone who suffered through the heat wave of 1995 without the benefit of cooled air. Weather might be the last frontier uncontrolled by humans, and the tragedies of 1995—739 Chicagoans died that summer—are the subject of “Heat Wave,” a co-production from Pegasus Players and Live Bait Theater. Steven Simoncic’s script is based on the book by Eric Klinenberg, “Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago,” a detailed look at the various ways the city and the local media failed to recognize (and in the case of Chicago officials, failed to respond to) the enormity of the problem. Or as someone in the play puts it: “This is what fucking up looks like.” With uneven direction from Ilesa Duncan, the show attempts to go “The Wire” route, but without “The Wire” results. Scenes that feel like bad sketch comedy (mainly about television news) or narratively redundant (those set in the city morgue) are interspersed with more serious moments, including the story of a daycare worker who accidentally caused the death of two of her charges after leaving them strapped in a car. Occasionally a line stands out for its verisimilitude, of “tenements that smell like sour socks.” That really paints a picture. But overall the show doesn’t feel true or genuine, or even complex. More importantly, it fails to capture what it feels like to drown in all that heat. There are other issues; Duncan’s production design includes what seems like hundreds of plastic bags, containing the personal effects belonging to the dead. They are meant as metaphor for all the lives lost, like the enormous pile of shoes in the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. Shoes somehow feel personal; not surprisingly, plastic bags feel plastic and inert. So much for symbolism. (Nina Metz)
At the O’Rourke Center for the Performing Arts, 1145 West Wilson, (773)878-9761. This production is now closed.