It’s always a pleasure to spend an afternoon with Lanford Wilson’s carefully crafted characters. Especially when he’s one of your favorite playwrights, and it’s one of your favorite plays. The Hot L Baltimore (the “e” in the neon “hotel” sign burnt out years ago) is a staple of classic American drama. The recent Manhattan Theatre Club production of Lisa D’Amour’s Airline Highway made audiences nostalgic for Wilson’s drama about a run-down hotel and its zany long-time. Thankfully, T. Schreiber Studio has brought them back to New York for a limited engagement.
A slice-of-life play with little in the ways of plot, The Hot L Baltimore examines 24 hours in the lives of the hotel’s occupants and employees: prostitutes, a geriatric singer, hippies, receptionists, retired school teachers and clairvoyants. Not to mention visitors in search of long lost relatives. All these and more grapple with the same struggles so many of us face today: how will we make it to the next? And will there still be enough in the bank for the day after that?
As this is truly an ensemble piece, there are no “stars”. Though, I’d be inclined to say George Allison’s impressive set may take the prize. He has transformed the small blackbox space into a once-lavish, now-faded hotel lobby with fine attention to detail. Luckily, Peter Jenson has directed an ensemble just as impressive. Though there are far too many to mention all in this review, there are certainly standouts.
Shane Rodney Lacoss plays the young stranger in search of a long lost relative in a sharp, intense performance. Alexandra Hellquist tackles the difficult role of “Girl”. Constantly in search of the perfect name, this call-girl rarely stops talking. Ms. Hellquist might play the role a bit too naively at times, but she is tuned into every moment of the play. Lisa Sobin plays an intensely paranoid Jackie, desperately in search of a better life. But it’s Anna Holbrook, though, who triumphs. In a quiet, lilting Southern accent, she brings Millie to life. Ms. Holbrook is a keen listener, taking in all of her surroundings, and present in every moment of the play. I dare you to take your eyes off of her as she reads a letter while another scene plays out across the stage.
While the play can be an ambitious challenge for any troupe – it’s dialogue and scenes often overlapping and criss-crossing – T. Scheiber Studio’s remarkable ensemble tackles the task with aplomb. The production runs through November 21st and tickets are a steal – $20. Treat yourself.
A side-note: this reviewer had the great pleasure of meeting Mr. Wilson at his Hamptons home in the summer of 2003. We spent a half an hour dissecting his play Burn This in his meticulous garden. The photo of us, me – a young, aspiring playwright still in high school, him, a legend and one of the young playwright’s idols – still sits on my desk.
The Hot L Baltimore: T. Schreiber Studio, 151 West 26th St.7th Fl. until Nov. 21st.