Saturday November 18th 2017

“The Hot L Baltimore”

Steppenwolf Theatre, a premiere ensemble company is presenting one of the greatest ensemble pieces ever written ,in Lanford Wilson’s “The Hote L Baltimore”. This is a run down hotel, filled with low-life characters as well as older, loners who have no family and no place to go. What once was a plush place to visit has become almost a rooming house where the bathrooms are shared and there is no kitchen, but a lobby where the residents spend a great deal of time and where we get to meet these characters who represent the lost souls of our world, not the homeless ( yet), but about as near as you can get. The time is 1973 and with the times and changes in the urban scene, this hotel is about to face the wrecking ball, which wreaks havoc with these people who have become a sort of family during their time residing in this hotel.

Steppenwolf utilizes their space to the ultimate with a great set by James Schuette, which contains the lobby area where the majority of action takes place, a long stairway that leads up to the second floor where we have a corridor and doorways into the rooms these people live in. This is a fantastic double decker set with a very high roof and no curtain- completely open and to make this show even more of  a theatrical experience, the actors are always in character, from before the play begins, through the intermission and until the very end, they move about the stage doing what people would do. Director Tina Landau has created a new look to this play and one that I found very appealing. The cast she has assembled do a wonderful job of bringing their characters to life- there are many different personalities residing in this “community”. Three “hookers”; April ( a strong and solid character played by de”Adre Aziza) the elder of these ladies of the night, Suzy ( deftly handled by Kate Arrington) who truly believes that her life  is not as bad as the others and  The Girl ( deftly handled by Allison Torem, who keeps improving with age, but needs to slow down her speech and project to the back row), new at her chosen profession and someone who wants to be involved with her “family” of residents. There are also two older residents, retirees who have been there for many years, Millie ( Molly Regan, who as always brings a special something to her character) and Mr. Morse ( the always reliable Yasen Peyankov) and last but not least,Jackie ( Alana Arenas) and her “slow” brother Jamie ( Namir Smallwood) who have a dream of getting away from the city. These are the residents.

The hotel is managed by Mr. Katz ( James Vincent Meredith) and Mrs. Oxenham ( TaRon Patton) and the clerk,Bill Lewis ( handled to perfection by Jon Michael Hill). Mr. Lewis is sort of the zoo-keeper keeping these people in-line and trying to follow the rules while dealing with some very strange characters and situations. The other cast members Jeremy Glickstein ( three roles),Jacqueline Williams as a mother who comes to see if she can keep her dysfunctional son on as a resident and Samuel Taylor as Paul Granger III, a young man searching for his grandfather who had been a resident, but has disappeared are all handled with the same quality proving that it is not the size of the role that is important in making a production complete, it is the quality of the acting.

Oh yes, there is one more character, a man who never speaks ( but does sing some old standards) and moves about the halls and rooms, unseen. The character is called “The Man” (brilliantly played by Sean Allan Krill) who I interpret as a ghost of the glamour that once lived in the Hotel Baltimore ( before the e burned out). The situations that we see and what we learn about these people are very realistic and reminders that loneliness is a painful experience, but possibly with some type of extended family, we can get through what befalls us. While each character appears to live day to day, it turns out that they do have feelings, and in many cases, for each other as well as just for themselves. While I love this production and the entire ensemble and how they work as a unit, I have never really liked the ending as some of the stories are not complete, but I would guess that Wilson wanted us to use our thought process and determine what we thought might happen fr each of these souls who have decided that despite all that life has dished out to them, life must go on!

Part of what makes an ensemble piece a true ensemble piece is all the technical aspects working together as well as the actors. Scott Zielinski’s lighting effects and Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen’s  sound as well as the costumes by Ana Kuzmanic all work perfectly with the set and movement that has been created. The props people( who are not listed in the program) did a great job in assembling the hundreds of pieces that are used to make it all seem real. This is a true ensemble work , from start to finish! This theatrical experience will continue at The Steppenwolf Theatre located at 1650 N. Halsted through May 29th with performances on Tuesday thru Sunday evenings at 7:30 p.m. ( Sunday through May 8th) and Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 3 p.m..There will be Wednesday matinees at 2 p.m. May 11th,18th and 25th.

NO PERFORMANCES on MAY 7th

Tickets range from $20-$73 and can be purchased at the box office, by phone at  312-335-1650 or online at www.steppenwolf.org

Students can purchase $15 online using promo code “HOTL15” (limit 2) at www.steppenwolf.org/students (must bring ID when picking up tickets) RUSH tickets at 50% off can be purchased, subject to availability one hour prior to performance.

After each performance, audience members are invited to come down front for a post show discussion at no charge. Enjoy!

                                                                             

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