Almost right from the start, “Three Hots and a Cot” grabs you and won’t let go until it’s over.
This locally written prison drama/musical had its world premiere Friday at the Rochester Repertory Theatre and, as promised, it makes human beings out of what to most of us are too often simply nameless, faceless inmates.
The play, developed by Debbie Fuehrer and Theo St. Mane two decades ago at the Federal Medical Center prison in Rochester, focuses on four main characters as it portrays life behind bars–from mail call, to lousy food, to family visits to finally completing a sentence and getting released.
Jake Dreher, as inmate Artie, narrates much of the story, while Dylon Starr is a balladeer whose songs connect and describe the scenes.
Sean Lundberg is nicely cast as a hot-headed career criminal who is also a jailhouse lawyer. The scene in which he’s waiting for a visit from his girlfriend is especially heart-tugging.
Alexandro Rox gives an absolutely brave performance as a transgender inmate, while Mitch Gibson is an inmate with mental health issues. At the end of the first act, the voices in his head come to life in the form of surreal tap-dancing inmates.
Also in the cast are Luke Langseth, Theo St. Mane, Dominique Jones, Chuck St. Mane, and Raymond Feston, all inmates with hurts and hopes of their own.
Music is by Greg Hintermeister, who wrote the songs, on guitar, and Mark McGlinch on bass.
We follow these characters as they stand in line at the commissary window to buy snacks, and watch them in a particularly touching scene when they make phone calls to loved ones, and listen as they talk about the horrors of night time in a prison cell.
Despite that, the overall feel is not depressing. There is a good amount of wit and grace, and the entire script is more subtle than might be expected.
What is perhaps missing is a more forceful recognition that these guys didn’t end up in prison by accident. We get snippets of their versions of what put them behind bars, but victims advocates would likely say that’s not the complete, or even truthful, story.
The main attraction of this play is that it provides a window to a world most of us luckily never experience. While watching these characters navigate their “time,” we can’t help but put ourselves in their shoes.
What makes all of this especially haunting is that we know, since this play was developed in a prison, it is authentic.
Tom Weber, Post-Bulletin January 14, 2019