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Third time’s the charm: film noir-style play is full of “Hot Air”— but in a good way

University graduates give the classic genre a comedic twist.
Director Nick Saxton watches a rehearsal scene for his show, Hot Air on Sunday, July 7 in Rarig Hall.
Image by Chris McNamara
Director Nick Saxton watches a rehearsal scene for his show, “Hot Air” on Sunday, July 7 in Rarig Hall.

The cast of “Hot Air” settled into their practice space last Tuesday night, lounging on chairs and snacking on chocolate-covered peanuts.

“How is everyone feeling?” asked director Nick Saxton, starting off the crew’s usual pre-rehearsal check-in. 

“To be honest … I’m feeling kind of deflated,” admitted “Hot Air” playwright Fletcher Wolfe. They paused a moment, then loudly drained a large white balloon, the sound met with subsequent groans and laughter.

The team will perform “Hot Air,” a film noir style comedy, at the Southern Theater this weekend, two years since its original opening at the University One Act Festival and preceding a sold-out show at the Minnesota Fringe Festival.

Following the journey of two clueless detectives, the story involves a hunt for a notorious killer, dubbed the “Balloon Man,” whose signature is a deflated balloon left at the crime scene.

With period-accurate clothing, shadow-heavy lighting, a jazz keyboardist and puppets, the play parodies many film noir tropes and iconic scenes.

By performing noir comedically, Wolfe and Saxton give the genre new life.

“It’s really refreshing to be part of something that’s really holistically clever in its subversion of tropes that have burrowed themselves into culture,” said lead Kate McCarthy. “Everyone can recognize the fun of film noir tropes even if the audience isn’t super well-versed in film noir.”

Keyboardist and music director Austen Fisher said this play is also a unique opportunity for emerging performers to experiment with acting and have fun. 

In the play he is allowed (and encouraged) to improvise on the keyboard, which is something not a lot of young actors have the liberty to do in performance.

“It’s nice to be able to have full control,” he said. “A lot of the time [there’s] a rite of passage in theatre, and a lot of larger institutions kind of make you make your way into theatre; … this kind of crazy insanity comedy isn’t something you see on stage very often, ever.”

Making the decision to bring back “Hot Air” after two years was something Saxton and Wolfe wanted to do because of how much they’ve grown as creatives since then.

“We didn’t want to do it again [because] not enough people saw it the first time. We wanted to do it again largely because I think we’ve all gotten so much better,” Saxton said.

The play comes at a bittersweet time of transition, when many of the cast members are moving, going back to school or starting in the workforce.

For Bianca Nkwonta, one of two actors who has been in all three casts of the show, this performance brings it full circle.

“It’s kind of our last hurrah, in a way,” she said. “Knowing that we’re all entering different industries, it’s amazing to see that we all have some differences and strengths, [but] we come together.”

Many in the cast have known each other for years through working together in comedy and theatre around campus and the Twin Cities. Wolfe said with this play and the liberty actors have to experiment and modify the script, the show is going to be one to remember.

“It really warms my heart to see it all come together,” Wolfe said. “I’m really happy that this thing that I never thought would be anything is now something everyone has an ownership of and really deserves to take credit for.”

When: July 12-July 14

Where: The Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis

Cost: $12 for students and seniors, $20 general admission

Editor’s note: Fletcher Wolfe and Kate McCarthy are both former Minnesota Daily employees.

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