Review "Hot l Baltimore": Humorous, Heartfelt, Haunting Havoc

Audio Podcast available on ITUNES
Narrated by Joshua Volkers
At 1650 N. Halsted
Written by Lanford Wilson
Directed by Tina Landau
Tuesdays thru Sundays at 7:30pm
Saturdays and Sundays at 3pm
Wednesdays at 2pm on May 11th, 18th, 25th
Thru May 29th 
Running Time:  Two hours includes a ten minute intermission
Reviewed by Katy Walsh
Hookers, ghosts, seniors living in the same hotel... if those walls could talk, the stories they'd tell.  Well, the walls say 'condemned' and the residents tell it all.  Steppenwolf Theatre Presents THE HOT L BALTIMORE.  A swanky hotel hasn't aged well.  The run-down building is now the communal home of a collection of misfits.  A transient lifestyle keeps the door revolving on the comings and goings of people.  The mainstays have adapted a family-like bond.  A no name prostitute obsesses about trains.  An old woman prattles the past.  A ghost serenades from the second floor.  Just like in blood relations, accommodations are made for the crazy members up to a point.  The hotel is THE authority with a no tolerance policy on both stealing and calling the cops on being stolen from.  When eviction notices are distributed, living under one roof gets less manageable.  THE HOT L BALTIMORE gives notice on the chaotic, cozy confines.
HotLBaltimore-2.jpgPlaywright Lanford Wilson creates multiple characters in a multiple dwelling with multiple problems.  Wilson immediately checks the audience into the room.  Its like being a spider on the cobweb eavesdropping on life-in-progress.  Under the direction of Tina Landau, the clusters of overlapping dialogue is a head-spinning, focal point, guessing game.  Where to look?  What to listen to?  So much going on!  It has all the makings for real life on stage. The simultaneous activity is performed by a large talented cast in perpetual motion.  As often is the case, leave it to the hookers to know how to satisfy.  Allison Torem (the girl) is funny as a non-stop chatterbox.  Torem is a burst of energetic intensity.  Her whiny voice borders on annoying or being 'a real bring down.'  de'Adre Aziza (April) is hysterical!  The big-hearted ho zings the one liners with a whole lot of vivacious attitude.  Kate Arrington (Suzy) hooks the comedy with spunky, drunken antics.  Arrington delights going extreme in a fit of rage followed by loving embraces.   These ladies of the evening give amusing pleasure. 
HotLBaltimore-1.jpgPlaying along with the prostitutes is the night clerk, Jon Michael Hill (Bill Lewis).  In between trying to handle the frustrating pandemonium, Hill exposes a vulnerable affection for the inhabitants.  His boss, James Vincent Meredith (Mr. Katz) delivers a thunderous memorable line, 'You've got no rights!'  Just Meredith's presence establishes some semblance of ultimate sheriff in the wild, wild, wild, wild west.  Molly Regan (Millie) is charming as the mysterious old lady with ties to the supernatural.  Regan opens the second act in an enchanting duet with a ghost. Sean Allan Krill (The Man) interjects a haunting, old-fashion melody in sentimental contrast to frenzied mayhem surrounding him.  Namir Smallwood (Jamie) plays a mentally-challenged man with heart-gripping innocence.  Using lighting and slow motion to enhance moments, Landau pulls out very distinct and colorful performances within the jumbled tales in play.
Designed by James Schuette, the Hotel Baltimore is an impressive bi-level set.  The lobby is old-hotel ritz turned decrepit Motel  6.  Water damaged walls, worn furniture, cobwebbed chandeliers, the look is authentic.  Upstairs, individuals' rooms are personalized with intricate details.  Hanging outside is the neon sign lighting 'Hot l Baltimore' (ah, now I get it). Even before the show officially starts, the hotel is buzzing with movement.  The illusion effectively adds to the walk-into a virtual reality feeling.  THE HOT L BALTIMORE holds the key to finding community in odd places and people.  It's a unique and funny hot mess! The ghost of the late, great Robert Altman must be amusingly watching from the third floor.     
Production photography courtesy of Michael Brosilow

Leave a comment