July 2, 2011 performance reviewed by Frances Benn Hall.
WTF artistic director Jenny Gersten’s bold decision to substitute Jon Robin Baitz Three Hotels for the previously scheduled and well-known comedy You Can’t Take it With You may have come as a surprise to a few season ticket holders, but for most, once they adjust to the drastic change of subject matter and dramatic technique, it should come as a welcome opportunity to explore a somewhat experimental play, opulently mounted on Williams Theatre Festival’s main stage.
The play is an eighty minute series of three monologs, performed without intermission but with scene shifts from one hotel to the next.
The plot concerns Ken Hoyle (Steven Weber), an ambitious and unscrupulous hatchet man for a baby food manufacturer who sells defective formula to credulous African mothers in developing countries.
He and his wife Barbara (Maura Tierney) had started as dedicated and idealistic Peace Corps volunteers twenty years before, but have sold out along the way. Although not as culpable as Ken, she has sold her own soul as she advises other young wives on how to live life in the third world.
The monologs are delivered, not so much as confessions to the audience, but rather Ken in the first and third, and Barbara in the connecting one, confront their own inner thoughts of personal lapses, marital discord, and corporate misdeeds searching for answers and possible forgiveness.
But this is more than just a two character play, for me at least, the three hotels, each so different and significantly so, tell the tale as vividly as do the actors. Set designer Thomas Lynch has had that magnificent 70 foot proscenium to fill and has done it with taste, opulence when called for, and an instinctive feel for mood and scene content.
For Ken’s first monolog, set in a posh hotel in Tangier, Morocco, the entire width of the stage becomes an enormous living room in which Ken can, moving restlessly from one area to another, keep drinking his martinis, keep defending his actions, at time becoming even ruefully funny. His subject matter is his real sins, reminding us of dialog in a play like Arthur Miller’s All My Sons (and the father who sold defective airplane parts).
But as he fights himself and his past, he at times can sting, himself and us, with a wry and sharp comment on himself. But he is still unforgiven and unforgiving.
We see him again in the third monolog The Day of the Dead Oaxaaca, Mexico. And a far different hotel. The room is small. It is on the second floor. The heat is intolerable. He is a guest. He could, and tells himself, he could call for a bottle of water to be brought up to him. But he does not call for it. He remembers that the old man who would have to climb to his room is lame. And one remembers the opulence of the hotel in Morocco and the man in that room with his martinis, unwilling to see himself.
The monolog between these two by Ken is movingly played in bright brilliant white sunlight in a hotel in St Thomas, Virgin Islands as his wife Barbara thinks back through where she started and what has happened along the way, ending with she herself becoming the whistle blower on her own husband, as at a scheduled luncheon to the young upcoming corporate wives, she has found herself telling them how it really was and is. What they will find themselves becoming. And most movingly trying to deal with the death of her own fifteen year old son.
This is a production not only rewarding to see, but one that would seem to invite audience discussion, at least for certain, advertised performances. Although set in 1991, the plight of the characters as they make worse the world in which they live, is still one very much with us.
Both actors are well cast and every the inch the characters they play. Their skills are there in the tiny touches – Tierney putting on her shoes as she finishes her monolog – or Weber lighting the candle near the end of his.
With so many plays on so many Berkshires stages, this is one I would like to have time to see again, and of course will not. But I have the feeling it would rewarding. Meanwhile I have tried to suggest enough of what it concerns to send you off to see it for me.