August 1, 2003

 

The Hotel Project

reviewed by
Lynn Trenning

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more about Lynn Trenning, please visit her main page.

Special to ArtSavant. Sponsored by a grant from The Puffin Foundation.

I slipped the bartender a business card and he slyly exchanged it for a hotel key. Then I retired to the billiard room at Cutters Lounge and sipped my hotel priced sauvignon blanc before riding the elevator to the 19th floor.

There, I was exposed to the fragile human heart, both as a victim of its own idiocy, and as the byproduct of the worldís brutality. Two fine new plays comprise the mystery event The Hotel Project, presented by Matt Olin and Anne Lambert.

Forty people gathered before a bed to watch actors Brian Lafontaine and Beth Pierce in a hotel suite at the Center City Marriott. The beauty of putting on a play in a hotel room is you donít have to hire a set designer. It saves a whole lot of money on props, and ensures a color coordinated bedroom set.

Playwright Stan Peal penned The Businessman and the Cheerleader and, in it, more proof that marriage is a repository for wounds. Lafontaine plays a businessman who hosts a teenaged cheerleader in his hotel room. Pierce adds new meaning to the word 'bouncy' in her depiction of a gum smacking, bottle tossing, foul-mouthed girl in town for a cheerleading competition. Or is she? The story progresses to violence, desperation, unburdening and redemption. Peal covers a lot of ground in a half an hour.

The cheerleaderís knack for tossing back mini-bottles is an interesting aspect of her role. Does she need to be drunk, or is it part of her act? The businessman is an intense composite of marital conundrums. He runs screaming from the comfort of his wife and his punished by an inability to be an effective husband. But like any institution, marriage is resilient, and it is fascinating to explore the lengths to which people will go to both destroy and save one.

Playwright Sharr Whiteís Six Years, or The Secret Life of an Albatross, is a more terrifying glimpse at love. Pierce plays Meredith, a woman whose husband left for war but didnít return when everyone else did. Lafontaine is Phil, the recalcitrant husband who arranges to meet his wife in a hotel room.

The room became overtly solemn when Pierce entered in her black mourning dress. Both characters speak in monotone as they face each other after years of abandonment. Pierce is wet from the rain when she enters the room, and looks like a 1940s starlet the morning after a bender. The two speak simultaneously. Somehow there is thunder in the hotel room. The mumbling is barely audible, yet sufficient in the intimate space.

Director Lon Bumgarner makes extensive use of silhouette. Meredith and Phil face each other and become little more than outlines of the couple they used to be. This a heartbreaking play, for it exposes the treachery of war: one that is played over and over in the real world. People are pawns in an unfairly stacked game, and when they are released they are set against each other, rather than those who are to blame.

Both characters are excruciatingly sympathetic. Of course Meredith is hurt and confused and mystified over her abandonment. Of course Phil canít go off to war and kill people and be expected to return home and be the same person he once was. And how can people be physically missing from a marriage for years and return to one another seamlessly? It is impossible. "I canít seem to stop moving," Phil says in explanation. "I just donít feel comfortable anywhere." These words canít be enough for Meredith, yet they are all he has. War asks unfair things of men. In turn, men ask unfair things of their wives.

In both plays it becomes the role of the woman to draw out the man's story. The women need to know the truth, and are willing to compromise themselves to become who and what the men need to make the relationship work. They are intensely forgiving, and forever accommodating.

Lynn Trenning, August 1, 2003

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