Chet’s Summer Vacation is a hot, surreal new play that explores the depths of adolescent transformation and sexual introspection when a young man named Chet moves up to the attic of his mother’s house in the heat of the Houston summer only to find release in the irresistible overtures of his new air-conditioning unit.
Presented by Intramural Productions in their third full-length production, the play is brilliantly directed by Bennett Kirschner and written by Sam Mayer. The work features David Williams as Chet, Alexander Wilson as Jorge, Julie Wakefield as Chet’s mother, and Grace Kennedy as Tina. Robby Brennan makes an unforgettable turn as a scantily leather-clad, sadomasochistic air-conditioning unit who penetrates the lives of the other characters by chauffeuring Chet into his journey of teenage soul-searching and sexual self-exploration.
Most of the play takes place where Chet begins his summer, sacrificing the comforts of life in a normal air-conditioned bedroom to live in his attic, with only a fan to keep him cool. As the summer begins to become blisteringly hot, Chet passes the time chugging cans of beer with his best friend, Jorge. At first, Jorge encourages Chet to chase girls and take him to parties as his designated driver, but when Chet’s air conditioning unit begins speaking to him, forcing him to turn the temperature so far down that Chet begins to contract a cold in the dampness of his attic, he begins to spend all his time in his room alone.
Chet’s mother, who purchases the A/C for her son to help him keep cool, begs him repeatedly to get out of the house. But Chet’s attraction and obsession with his A/C begins to become more and more peculiar. As the play progresses, Chet’s mother begins to wake up in the morning to talk with Jorge, as he descends from Chet’s bedroom, about what exactly happens in the attic. The play is a hilarious and convincing metaphor meant to express the struggles of understanding and accepting teenage sexuality and queerdom. The mingling of laughable and cringeworthy moments offers the perfect distillation of adolescent coming of self that resonated with the crowd.
Set in the back of the outdoor cinema Burgundy Picture House — a central Bywater locale where one can walk to Vaughan’s, Bar Redux, Bacchanal, and the levee all in five minutes — the setting puts the audience in an environment where they can truly identify with the hot, sticky elements of the play. As the play wears on, water dripping from Chet’s room into the kitchen, caused by Chet’s overuse of the A/C, comes closer and closer to precariously overfilling the buckets placed out by Chet’s mother to catch the leaks. While surreal and humorous in many moments and kinky-kitsch at others, Chet’s Summer Vacation offers a resonating message for viewers to consider what it means to understand their desires, their sexuality, and pursuits in life in general. Its limited time staging at the Burgundy Picture House ran August 4th-August 6th and August 10th-August 13th to well-attended crowds (even despite the flooding in early August). It’s truly a perfect play for a New Orleans summer, and undeniably worthy of an encore engagement.