A genial, leisurely revival of a classic seventies play.
By Joel Benjamin
Lanford Wilson’s early work, Hot l Baltimore (1973)—the missing “e” in Hotel is a witty reference to the hotel’s broken neon sign—was a huge success, running for well over a thousand performances. Members of its early casts (Conchata Ferrell, Judd Hirsch, Jonathan Hogan, etc.) went on to successful careers. The play even inspired a TV series.
The T. Schreiber Studio for Theatre & Film is presenting a refreshingly unfussy revival of this meandering, virtually plotless, character-driven comedy/drama directed, with incisive attention to detail and mood, by Peter Jensen.
The setting, the lobby of the Hotel Baltimore, is like another character of the show. Set designer George Allison aligned well with Jensen, managing to fill the small stage of the Gloria Maddox Theatre to the brim with perfectly chosen, evocative, worn-but-formerly-elegant furnishings, including an old-fashioned telephone switchboard. Mary Cann’s period and character-perfect costumes also help to build the overall portrait of the time, place and mood.
However, it’s how the colorful denizens of this now seedy establishment face uncertain futures as the wrecking ball threatens their home and how they react to this news that is the gist of the play. The character list is the play.
The hotel staff: Bill Lewis (Jerry Topitzer), front desk manager, seemingly blasé about losing his job; Mr. Katz (Bill Barry), the owner, tacitly permitting illegal activities in the hotel; and the other manager, Mrs. Oxenham (Joan D. Saunders), bit of a hard-ass, but okay deep down.
The residents: elderly Millie (Anna Holbrook) and even older Mr. Morse (Peter Judd), the former, a lovely, patient and observant still-waters-run-deep type, and the latter, cantankerously set in his ways; the prostitutes: Girl (Alexandra Hellquist), youthful, wide-eyed, but experienced; April Green (Stephanie Seward), zaftig, good-natured, who knows everyone’s business; and, Suzy (Jill Bianchini), a tough cookie. Finally, a brother and sister, Jackie (Lisa Sobin), her head full of dead-end money-making schemes and Jamie (Philip Rosen), a slightly slow, sweet-looking, easily manipulated guy.
The interlopers: Mrs. Bellotti (Wendy Mae Shelton) who comes to collect her son’s belongings after he was kicked out; Paul Granger III (Shane Rodney Lacoss), alienated from his family, seeking his grandfather who formerly lived at the Baltimore; Suzy’s John (Cameron Crocker), belligerent and unappealing; an angry Cab Driver (James S. Hogan) and a very welcome pizza Delivery Boy (Matthew Dean Wood).
Their interactions, their glances, their physical and vocal ticks and their continuous comings and goings keep Hot l Baltimore interesting. There are a few lulls in this staging and some overacting, which will probably be worked out as the cast continues to work together during the run of the show.
Overall, this Hot l Baltimore—the acting, directing and production values—makes a strong case for re-visiting what has become a minor classic.
*Photos: Bob Degus
Hot l Baltimore (through November 21, 2015)
Gloria Maddox Theatre
151 West 26th Street, 7th Floor, between 6th & 7th Avenues New York, NY
For tickets call 212-352-3101 or visit www.tschreiber.org
Running time: two hours 15 minutes including one intermission