The second installment in the Pittsburgh Public Theater‘s “Season of Legends” is the world premiere of a new play that is chock full of…well, legends. The play is called L’hotel (that’s French) and the Pittsburgh audience is the very first to check in.
We open with a flustered waiter (Evan Zes) scurrying to prepare the breakfast tables in this extravagant hotel dining room. One by one the guests arrive to dine: Victor Hugo, Oscar Wilde, Isadora Duncan, Gioachino Rossini, Jim Morrison, and Sarah Bernhardt. What’s happening is quickly made clear: this hotel is the afterlife for the people buried in Pere Lachaise (I’ll let you do your own homework).
These characters are very used to each other, exchanging compliments and barbs over their morning coffee. The uptight Victor Hugo doesn’t care much for the dry homosexual Wilde, while Rossini disapproves of Morrison’s sexual desires and terrible music (which is fair). It becomes clear that most of our characters want the same thing: to re-enter the world of the living so that it can be graced with their presence once more.
What follows is a somewhat loose and convenient plot to reenter the real world via being reincarnated through a pregnant girl (Erika Cuenca) who keeps visiting the cemetery. All the supernatural material is somewhat vague, given to us by an offstage Ouija board and a deep ominous voice. Getting into the magical science isn’t really the point of the piece so, like an episode of Charmed, the audience is to just accept that this is how the afterlife works. Although the last 10 minutes of the show will probably leave you with a feeling of “…what is happening?”
What is really at the center of the play is the character’s attitudes towards the world and their deep pride in themselves. There are plenty of arguments about who most deserves to be reincarnated and who would make a greater impact the second time around. As a whole, the residents are very over-the-top and selfish. There are a few minutes of humility where a character admits to wanting to change mistakes they made the first time around, but all in all they feel the world needs them. In their day it meant something to be famous, unlike the present day when someone with no talent can display their ass on a magazine cover and make headlines.
The attitude of the legends contrast the waiter, who here represents the “working class” man that continues working hard even in death. The guests clearly consider themselves better than him (no one recalls his name) and, rather predictably, it is he who comes out on top in the end. The message appears to be “work hard your entire life, even if you don’t become famous, and you’ll receive your rewards…after you die.” Not exactly comforting.
What really jumped out at me was how it didn’t need to be these six specific characters: it could have been built around many others. Hell, there could have been characters simply called “The Author”, “The Dancer”, “The Singer”, etc. (like The Breakfast Club). Oscar Wilde (Brent Harris) is given some moving monologues that are technically good but I can’t tell why they’re needed. Really the only reason to have the characters be real people from history is to include all the witty references and jabs made throughout the script. Which is fine, I always laughed anytime someone made fun of Isadora Duncan’s death-by-scarf situation or the fact that no one likes The Doors.
Moving on, the whole cast really commits to their roles and seems to have a lot of fun getting into whatever is happening. Tony Triano and Kati Brazda have a lot of great one-liners as Rossini and Duncan, while Deanne Lorette throws a lot of over-dramatic energy into Sarah Bernhardt. Daniel Hartley does of good job of confirming that Jim Morrison was probably a bit of a pig (he spends half the play with a hand down his tight tight pleather pants). Everyone does a great job in a scene where they make creative ploys towards the living girl, which involves staged readings, interpretive dance, and Morrison making with the sexy (which is really hilarious).
So…this is a brand new play and a work-in-progress. Things could still be tweaked during this production; it could even turn into something else. Who knows? (Certainly not me.) Overall I don’t think the message of the piece is terribly clear and the execution quite bizarre. I will probably give the show a re-watch during the run, but as of now I have to say I foundL’hotel a confusing place to be.
Presented by the Pittsburgh Public Theater
@The O’Reilly Theater
Directed by Ted Pappas
Written by Ed Dixon
Designed by James Noone (scenery), David C. Woolard (costumes), Kirk Bookman (lighting), Zach Moore (sound)
Starring Kati Brazda (Isadora Duncan), Erika Cuenca (Young Woman), Brent Harris (Oscar Wilde), Daniel Hartley (Jim Morrison), Deanne Lorette (Sarah Bernhardt), Tony Triano (Gioachino Rossini), Sam Tsoutsouvas (Victor Hugo), Evan Zes (the Waiter)
The show runs from now until December 14th. Tickets can be purchased here.
Performance Date: November 12, 2014