Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Recreates Lanford Wilson's The Hot L Baltimore in Grand Style.

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(left to right) Allison Torem with ensemble member Jon Michael Hill in Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s production of The Hot L Baltimore by Lanford Wilson, directed by ensemble member Tina Landau.  Photo by Michael Brosilow.

“For me, ‘The Hot L Baltimore’ is a play about losers refusing to lose.  To me they’re brave people. They are survivors.”  Playwright Lanford Wilson explaining his characters.

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Lanford Wilson.

Chicago, Monday, April 4, 2011. Playwright Lanford Wilson who was involved in the early stages of the Steppenwolf production of The Hot L Baltimore and died at the age of 73 on March 24, 2011 (coincidentally, the day the show opened in previews) has been compared to Chekhov for his melancholy and nuance of character.

The original Hot L Baltimore opened off-Broadway in February 1973 where it ran for an unprecedented 1,166 performances before walking away with the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for the Best American Play of 1972-73. In addition, The Hot L Baltimore won an Obie for best Off-Broadway play and was adapted in 1975 as a television situation comedy produced by Norman Lear for ABC.

A collection of down and out characters inhabit the once grand Hot L Baltimore that is now facing the wrecking ball as its residents struggle to find meaning in their day-to-day existence.  The title, Hot L with a dropped e from hotel is a metaphor to the state of general disrepair that has fallen on the residence.

The audience is invited to eavesdrop on the action which takes place in a no-expenses-spared set designed by James Schuette.  The spectacularly crafted two-story design gives the audience an inside look at the private lives of the residents in their upstairs rooms and their public persona revealed in the full-stage first floor hotel lobby.

Many scenarios take place at the same time giving a reality to the story, but making it difficult to hone in on specific conversations. However, that is the point of Wilson’s play.  We are the observers and are left to follow the action of the characters as we see fit and to draw our own conclusions.

Director Tina Landau has put together a talented and eclectic cast of 14 to

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(left to right) Ensemble member Kate Arrington with de’Adre Aziza in Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s production of The Hot L Baltimore by Lanford Wilson, directed by ensemble member Tina Landau.  Photo by Michael Brosilow.

represent all facets of humankind–young, old, dreamers, complainers, funny, sad and a little crazy–but all very unique individuals.

Standouts include: Jon Michael Hill (TV’s Detroit 1-8-7) as the sassy comical front desk clerk Bill Lewis; the lively Alison Torem as “The Girl”, a 19-year-old girl who has already traveled the country supporting herself as a prostitute and is trying to define herself; the lovable Molly Regan as Millie, an elderly woman who is able to see spirits; Alana Arenas in a sensational performance as Jackie, who dreams of a better life for her and her fragile, shy, off-kilter brother Jamie who is beautifully portrayed by Namir Smallwood; Yasen Peyankov is right-on as the cranky Mr. Morse who complains to management about everything from his stuck window to a missing checker piece; de’Adre Aziza as veteran prostitute April, bursts in the lobby in a red silk robe, taking over the stage with her brash one-liners but also knows how to show compassion as she protects the more vulnerable residents of Hot L Baltimore–even helping  pry Jamie out of his shell in a delightful dance number; Kate Arrington as the young prostitute, Suzy, is naive and  vulnerable but also hopeful; Jacqueline Williams plays a tragic Mrs. Bellotti, an elderly woman who is trying to keep her problemed son from being forced out on the street: Sean Allan Krill as the fashionable “The Man”, adds a layer of mystery to the story as he walks the hotel’s floors observing the happenings but never saying a word and seemingly unseen by the others: Samuel Taylor as the young Paul Granger III a secretive  higher-class individual than the hotel’s residents adds contrast as he comes to the hotel looking for his grandfather who used to be a resident.

Location:                                 
Steppenwolf Downstairs Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted St. (312) 335 1650.
                                     
Regular Run: 
April 5- May 29, 2011.

Curtain Times:                        
Tuesdays through Sundays at 7:30 pm
(Sunday evening performances through May 8 only)
Saturday and Sunday matinees at 3 pm
Wednesday matinees on May 11, 18 & 25 at 2 pm
Note: there is no 3 pm or 7:30 pm performance on Saturday, May 7.
Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes including one intermission.

Ticket prices:                          
Regular Run: $20-$73

Discount tickets:
20 for $20: Twenty $20 tickets are available at Audience Services beginning at 11 am on the day of each performance (1 pm for Sunday performances).
Rush Tickets: Half-price rush tickets are available one hour before each show. 
Student Discounts: $15 student tickets are available online using promo code: “HOTL15” (Limit 2 tickets.  Must present a valid student ID for each ticket). For additional student discounts, visit www.steppenwolf.org/students.

Special Event:
Wine Tasting: Wednesday, April 13 at 6 pm in the Balcony Lobby. $55 includes ticket to show, true stories inspired by The Hot L Baltimore, DJ White Russian, food and wine. 312 335 1650 (code 7452).

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