The inelegant, sweating, hyperventilating Franklin Elijah White (Richard Lovejoy) is desperate to tell us something of immense import. The frantic meteorologist employs a slide show of natural disasters and their aftermaths to demonstrate how the weather will some day destroy each of us, one by one. While playwright Stephen Aubrey effectively communicates Franklin’s mania, The Dark Heart of Meteorology ultimately fails to transcend the pitiable Franklin's befuddled fog. Franklin intimately understands the weather’s malevolence: his own father (also a meteorologist) and mother were struck by lightning and injured on their wedding day, and the weather relentlessly stalked them for the rest of their lives. To Franklin, these were shots across his own bow; he’s convinced that he’s doomed. The Dark Heart of Meteorology is a kind of Final Destination with the weather as the stalking, unstoppable predator (“See the sun? It hates us!”). The weather with a capital “W” is Franklin’s breathless obsession and serves as the metaphor for love, isolation and death. The unstated but bathetic realization of the play is that it’s not the weather that’s going to get Franklin; it’s his psychosis.
Mr. Lovejoy frequently overacts Franklin’s neurotic preoccupations and his klutziness. Franklin drops papers like an absent-minded professor and trips over himself, à la Chevy Chase. Yet, he isn’t a clown; he’s mentally ill. And what he finally tells us, as revealed in his late father’s mysterious manuscript, the title of which is that of the play, is disappointingly banal: entropy is our natural state. We’re all going to get it in the end, so enjoy life while you can. And, by the way: good luck with all that.
Stephen Aubrey’s script has hilarious moments of improbable, bizarre humor. In the fifth grade, Franklin’s father took him on a hot air balloon and the two steered at tornadic clouds. White’s great-great grandfather, the “personal meteorologist” for General William Tecumseh Sherman, died when a freak gust of wind blew a cannonball back into his face. Similarly, each in his family’s long line of meteorologists has been victimized by the weather. Unfortunately, Mr. Lovejoy doesn’t quite maximize the punch of these absurd comic gems; they frequently fall a bit flat.
Like the luckless rock band, Spinal Tap, Franklin goes from fame to lame during the course of the play. Fired by his network after an on-air breakdown, he’s soon delivering his apocalyptic slide show in the basement of a place called The Greater Star Apostolic Church. He’s spiraling downward in a funnel cloud all his own and nothing, he believes, can stop that fall.
The best parts of The Dark Heart of Meteorology involve clever visual interludes by Aubrey and video designer Alex Koch that chronicle Franklin’s psychic dismantling; his video blogs become increasingly weird and ominous. Franklin’s last “lecture,” a poignant slide show backed by Kepi Ghoulie’s eerie acoustic version of his song “Stormy Weather,” encapsulates, better than Franklin himself, what Mr. Aubrey is trying to communicate through his faltering, stuttering, and sometimes nonsensical hero: that, for some, life will be short and terrible, but we should never cease trying to help and protect each other, in spite of the potential for horror.
It’s easy to invent a character that’s not quite sane. It’s harder to make his insanity resonate with the rest of us, to unearth brilliance or even community in madness. Mr. Aubrey has done a great job of illustrating Franklin’s psychosis, yet Franklin has little to convey to us other than his pathetic urgency and crippling paranoia. This flaw is not aided by director Jess Chayne’s seeming uncertainty about whether this 60-minute show is a comedy or drama; in the end, it winds up being a bit of neither.