Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Schreiber Revival of HOT L BALTIMORE by Lanford Wilson

L-R: Stephanie Seward, Anna Holbrook, and Alexandra Hellquist in THE HOT L BALTIMORE.  Photo by Bob Degus.
The Hotel Baltimore has seen better days (as evidenced by the missing “e” on the hotel’s sign which accounts for the play’s somewhat unusual title).  So, too, have its long term residents, including three members of the oldest profession.  Suzy (Jill Bianchini) is so accepting of her submissive state that she is prepared to return to a former pimp should she be forced to vacate the hotel, all the while persisting in flouncing about as if she were a glamour queen.  April Green (Stephanie Seward) simply does whatever if takes to keep going, including turning tricks on the floor, on a table, in a bathtub, or wherever.  And the Girl (Alexandra Hellquist) has so little understanding of who she really is that she cannot even decide on a name for herself and persists in seeking alternative worlds incorporating ghosts and concepts of reincarnation which ostensibly would prove to be more palatable to her than her own reality.

Nor will the three hookers be the hotel’s only casualties in the event that it is forced to close (which seems highly likely now that all its residents have received eviction notices).  What is to become of Jackie (Lisa Sobin), a tough, conniving thief and her passively pathetic brother, Jamie (Philip Rosen)?  Or the older folks: the mildly eccentric Mr. Morse (Peter Judd) and the sedate Millie (Ann Holbrook)?  Indeed, we might also ask what will become of the hotel’s employees, Bill Lewis (Jerry Topitzer) and Mrs. Oxenham (Joan D. Saunders).

Not that we’re going to find out.  The Hot L Baltimore by Lanford Wilson, won the Drama Desk and Obie awards for best play when it was first staged in 1973, and it is now being revived in a very professional production by T. Schreiber Studio for Theatre & Film at The Gloria Maddox Theatre on West 26th Street in Manhattan.  But the play wasn’t big on plot structure when it was first produced and, not surprisingly, it isn’t any bigger on plot structure in this latest incarnation.  Rather, its claim to fame rests on its depiction of various individuals and their relationships (trivial though they might be) under all sorts of circumstances.

In my opinion, that is the play’s shortcoming.  This would have been a much better play, I believe, if Wilson had allowed his plot ideas to evolve and then resolved them, instead of just leaving them out there as unresolved background issues, focusing solely on his characters’ emotional reactions.  Given the play as it has been written, however, the cast has performed splendidly.  I was particularly impressed by the performances of Jill Bianchini, Stephanie Seward, and Alexandra Hellquist as the three hookers; Lisa Sobin as Jackie; and Ann Holbrook as Millie.

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