Friday, May 14, 2010

Four actors, 21 roles in Harlequin's gritty ‘Six Hotels'

Intense emotions, humorous moments mix

The News Tribune/The Olympian, May 14, 2010
Pictured at top: David Nail, Caitlin Frances and Helen Harvester
Large cast photo: Nail, Frances, Harvester and Brian Claudio Smith
photos by

The love affair between Harlequin Productions and Israel Horovitz continues with Harlequin’s production of the Horovitz suite of one-act plays, “Six Hotels.”

The six short plays with four actors in 21 parts are loosely connected only in that each play happens in a hotel, and that some of the same running jokes and references reverberate throughout. There are numerous jokes about actors working as waiters or bellboys, the best of which is the one about the waitress who says waitressing is her dream job but sometimes she has to act for money.

There is a lot of comedy – thoroughly contemporary, adult, biting comedy. But there also is harsh reality, politics, love, sentimentality and some of the grittiest realism since Brando in “Streetcar Named Desire.”

Even the comedy is gritty and harsh. These are not easy plays to sit though, but they are brilliantly written with realistic situations and dialogue, and played out with amazing skill by the four-person cast.

Two of the cast members, Brian Claudio Smith and David Nail, were in Horovitz’s “Sins of the Mother” last year at Harlequin and went on to reprise their roles under Horovitz’s direction in productions with Gloucester Stage Company (Nail) and Florida Stage (both). Their fellow actors are Caitlin Frances, who was outstanding in Carl Sagan’s “Contact” at Centerstage this year and has been seen in “Measure for Measure” and “The Last Night of Stardust” at Harlequin, and Helen Harvester, who mesmerized Harlequin audiences as the werewolf in “Mating Dance of the Werewolf.” Under the able direction of Scot Whitney the cast masters had the difficult task of transitioning from character to character – with differing accents and skill sets and attitudes.

The opening story, “Speaking of Tushy,” is about two ridiculous and pathetic drunken men who meet in a hotel bar and exchange stories of their failed love lives with a hilarious comic twist at the end. The rapid transitions between the bar scenes and bedroom scenes with their girlfriends are beautifully staged. Unfortunately, from my seat on the left, it was hard to see some of the action in the dim lighting. I couldn’t see the actors’ faces clearly and had a hard time hearing dialogue, which was directed obliquely to my seat.

The next story, “Lovers and Fiddleheads,” was a similarly absurd comedy of love, woe and betrayal but with sweet undertones.

Then came the blockbuster drama, a 180-degree turn to a tense political drama about four American students trapped in a Beirut hotel awaiting evacuation during the bombing of Beirut. One of the students is a New York Jew (Smith) and the other is an American-born Palestinian (Frances) whose parents were killed by Israelis. As they start to express hatred for each other’s heritage, their clash becomes as intensely emotional as anything I’ve ever seen on stage. The night I was there, four audience members walked out at this point, offended by the harsh language or the raw political rage or both. They had sat through numerous uses of the same offensive words in the earlier scenes, but combined with the raw emotionalism, this scene was apparently too much for some to handle. You have been forewarned, and you should know this is incredibly powerful and amazing theater.

After a much-needed 20-minute intermission, they start back with the lightest play of the six, “The Audition Play,” in which Frances tap dances and speaks to an unseen director out in the audience. This is followed by “The Hotel Play” in which Harvester plays a woman jilted by her lover and tempted by the bellboy (Smith), and “2nd Violin” with the women playing musicians getting ready for a performance.

If you like cutting-edge drama and contemporary adult humor, don’t miss “Six Hotels.”

When: Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through May 29, pay what you can May 15 at 3 p.m.
Where: State Theater, 202 E. 4th Ave., Olympia
Tickets: $22-$33
Information: 360-786-0151; www.harlequin

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