Time Catches Up
We’ve all heard the phrase, “ahead of its time.” It’s one I’ve heard a lot lately given the recent passing of science-fiction writer, Ray Bradbury, who envisioned everything from the flat screen TV to e-books. It also came to mind as I watched the Spotlighter Theater’s production of Lanford Wilson’s 1973 play, “The Hot L Baltimore.”
On the surface, there doesn’t appear to be much visionary in this 2-act, 2-plus hour play about a shabby hotel with a burntout marquee (hence the missing “l” in “hotel”) populated by prostitutes, rejects, dupes, people with broken dreams.
Upon closer inspection, however, we see individuals who would fit very nicely in today’s society. For example, I’m sure back in the 70s, Jackie (April Rejman), would have seem an odd hippie with her interest in the environment and organic foods, sharing soynuts with her brother, Jamie (Brian M. Kehoe). Of course, today we have Whole Foods stores from sea to shining sea and everybody recycles.
The play would inspire a Norman Lear-produced TV show of the same name which would feature “one of the first gay couples to be depicted on an American television series,” so sayeth Wikipedia. Needless to say, it only last 13 episodes. That’s usually what happens when an idea appears “ahead of its time.”
Today, I’d dare say that “Hot L Baltimore” would be a hit HBO series starring Christina Hendricks as one of the prostitutes and Steve Buscemi as the hotel manager if he wasn’t already booked filming “Boardwalk Empire.” This is because the play has all the trappings of the beginnings of a dramatic series.
“Hot L Baltimore” isn’t didactic, it isn’t driven by some singular message like, for example, a Eugene O’Neill play (“Iceman Cometh”? Don’t mess with people’s pipe dreams!) , but instead finds its energy through the interaction of the characters and their respective stories, with plenty of questions still to be answered by play’s end.
The spoon stirring this particular pot of seedy Americana is Ann Turiana as the trainspotting “Girl,” who tries different names like dresses she just can’t decide upon. Her blonde hair in arranged in school-girl fashion, attired in a pair of red short-shorts, she would appear to be a stereotypical, blonde bubblehead, but proves to be anything but.
Her character is also ahead of its time, the free woman, outside of acceptEd Moral ideals yet has a strong sense of values, who lives to explore, to learn, and is anything but stupid—in other words, the type of modern American female that populates programs ranging from “The Sopranos” to “Desperate Housewives.”
“Girl” bounces off the other characters on stage like a pin ball against...well, whatever it is that pinballs bounce up against…setting off her fellow characters into drowsy southern reminiscence as in Hillary Mazer’s Millie, or in loving annoyance as in Steven Shriner’s Bill Lewis, or just straight out befuddlement as in David Shoemaker’s grandfather-seeking Paul Granger III.
Kate Shoemaker and Beverly Shannon portray the prostitutes Suzy—a funny whirlwind in leopard-skin platform wedges—and the worldly-and-world-weary April. Anne Shoemaker does her usual exemplary job, first as the harried, purse-clutching Mrs. Bellotti, and then as the officious Mrs. Oxenham. Andrew J. Porter, working the 70s-sideburns-and-stache, is the harried hotel manager, Mr. Katz, who barks at his patrons who don’t know enough to leave a condemned hotel. Denis L. Latkowski is the elderly Mr. Morse, who can’t seem to decide whether his room is too hot or too cold, and Jose Teneza does yoeman’s service in multiple roles ranging from a cab driver to a pizza delivery guy to a john who can’t keep his pants up.
Kudos to director Eric C. Stein in successfully choreographing this talented 12- member ensemble which flawlessly navigates the Spotlighters 13x16 stage.