Most plays are written to fit snugly into a genre so they're easier to market to an audience. Comedy. Drama. Tragedy. Historical. But local playwright Suzan Noyes' new show, Hot Spot in Pompeii, is a mash-up, a delightful breath of fresh air that takes a screwball romantic farce and plops it smack dab next to Mt. Vesuvius as the bowels of the famous volcano start to rumble.
With a gorgeous set, Hot Spot in Pompeii takes place in 79 A.D. as the Nobilius and Maxima families prepare to marry their children to each other. The patriarchs of the families both have massive olive oil concerns and figure a marriage between the families will create an olive oil monopoly the likes of which the Romans had never seen.
But the children are less excited, as son Harmonius Profunda Nobilius has just finished music school and wants to be a balladeer; he could care one drop about getting into the olive oil business. Not to mention, he's in love with a beautiful sheepherder. Meanwhile, daughter Beautissima Robustus Maxima doesn't want him, either. She is attracted to a rough and tumble mafioso. The play is set as the families meet at a villa by Mt. Vesuvius to discuss dowries.
The pending eruption serves as a pot boiler, and a somewhat weird one at that; after all, it is a comedic farce through and through, so setting something so light and slapsticky against an inevitable ending of mass death creates a wonderful tension.
"Sometimes I wake up with complete stories in my head," Noyes told me. "This one was about a frustrated artiste; human issues remain the same regardless of the era you're born in. A kid writes songs and dad wants to force him into the family business and get married—grow up. I embroidered on this, set it in Pompeii and had fun with silly Roman names. The rest is history."
The enduring theme of the play is the idea that history can both preserve and erase—a charming dichotomy—but really the star is the script, with a staccato flow (of dialogue, not lava) that keeps the show lively, and erupts with several laugh out loud moments.
Hot Spot in Pompeii
7:30 pm Friday-Saturday, 3 pm Sunday
2nd Street Theater, 220 NE Lafayette Ave.