George Bernard Shaw once said, “The great advantage of a hotel is that it is a refuge from home life.” But in Yale Cabaret’s “Hotel,” one sees quite the opposite: many individuals’ home lives converge in one hotel room.
As soon as one enters the cabaret, one is immediately transported to every hotel room in which one has stayed. The set, simply but cleverly designed by Paul Gelinas DRA ’08, is complete with all the ubiquitous accoutrements, from the pens emblazoned with a hotel chain logo to the standard circular iceboxes.
Billing itself as a “contemporary jazz opera,” “Hotel” tells the story of seven different nights in the same hotel room. But instead of appearing sequentially, the tales are super-imposed, so that the occupants of one night exist alongside those of the next.
The shared space is often the only thing the characters who inhabit it have in common; the residents range from a traveling business man to a couple having an affair.
This juxtaposition of opposite characters can be very striking, notably when a birdwatcher studies her guide in the same chair where a couple had previously consummated their affair. Different as their motivations may seem, the characters’ close proximity forces one to recognize their shared humanity.
“Hotel rooms are these anonymous places that don’t exist anywhere else. Everyone has a different reason to be there. The juxtaposition of all of [the stories] together … shows what it is to be human in our age,” said director Brian McManamon DRA ’06.
Mark Wing-Davey, director of Yale Repertory Theatre’s November production of “Safe in Hell,” introduced the show to McManamon, who worked on the world premiere in Oxford with lyricist Caryl Churchill.
Despite Churchill’s fame for such works as “Cloud Nine” and “Ice Cream,” the latter of which was produced as a Yale Sudler production in the fall, “Hotel” remains largely unknown. McManamon wanted to bring the work to a larger audience; this run marks its U.S. premiere.
One reason for the show’s lack of popularity may be the difficulties ‘Hotel’ presents both in its score and in its staging. The music, jazz in mostly 9/8 time written by Orlando Gough, at first seems slightly awkward and counterintuitive. As one gets into the spirit, though, the rhythms and tempo changes seem to imitate natural speech.
“[The music] creates an incredible atmosphere to this abstract, choppy kind of dialogue … It forms an internal monologue,” McManamon said. Indeed, there is a very distinct parallel between the music and the process of thought, in which ideas are interrupted or repeated. Many vocal lines also intersect, mirroring the manner in which characters’ lives traverse at this one juncture.
The staging also has potential to be problematic — as seven distinct groups of people must fit into one room as if they are the only ones inhabiting it — but McManamon adeptly handles the challenge. The stage never appears cluttered if viewed as a whole, and each person’s individual position never seems forced or unnatural; although there are only two beds in the room, the businessman falls asleep at his desk, while a drunken couple lies passed out on the floor.
The cast members also work well in telling their individual stories, as well as in contributing to a whole. Particularly captivating is the couple having an affair, played by Ashley Bryant DRA ’08 and Bryan Clark DRA ’06, whose simultaneous excitement, attraction and fear are as palpable as they are engaging.
While vocal quality and intonation is sometimes lacking, the actors make up for this in their complete devotion to their character; Christopher Grant DRA ’08 and Nikki Berger DRA ’08 are hilarious as the drunken couple, their strident tones fitting perfectly with their raucous nature.
Despite the connections “Hotel” creates between otherwise unrelated groups of people, a running theme throughout the work is loneliness even amid companionship. Michelle Arkow ’08 reflects on her emotional isolation despite having her husband sleeping beside her; this is followed the entrance of a solitary ghostly figure (Corena Chase ’06), whose chilling solo is a vocal highlight of the production.
The juxtaposition of these two ideas – community and seclusion — is what makes “Hotel” so unique, thought-provoking and ultimately enjoyable.
You’ll certainly never look at those complimentary pens the same way again.