Check into "Three Hotels" and be immersed in a taut, multilevel journey into complicated emotions, ethical and corporate corruption, love and loss.
Two actors deliver three pithy monologues in the 80-minute play by Jon Robin Baitz, which Beowulf Alley Theatre opened last week. Each monologue is set in a hotel room in a different country, and actors Roberto Guajardo and Susan Arnold never interact on stage as they tell their intertwined stories.
Guajardo's first monologue as Kenneth Hoyle, the vice president of marketing and Third World affairs for baby-formula maker Global Pacific, is set in Tangiers, Morocco.
Guajardo's expressive face and physicality related Kenneth's underlying sense of exasperation and exhaustion. Kenneth, who has denied his birthright, is tired of his corporate role of the "gentleman farmer" who easily and effectively fires people.
The son of a Jewish, card-carrying Communist and a former Peace Corps member, Kenneth also has grown weary of the distended bellies of starving children, of defending his company, and of the deteriorating, drifting relationship with his wife, Barbara.
The middle monologue sets Barbara (Arnold) in a Virgin Islands resort at the company's every-other-year corporate conference. On the heels of a poignant and piercingly realistic speech that Barbara delivered to the wives of the executives about to be sent to the Third World, we discover that Ken and Barbara were once a wide-eyed, we-can-change-the-world couple who suffered an incredible loss while in Brazil. Arnold's hippie-esque top, flowing skirt and sensible, earth-loving shoes harken to those idyllic, idealist days, rather than to her corporate-wife role.
Arnold brings the brittleness of being hardened by years of loyalty to and sacrifice for the company. Yet Arnold allows Barbara's fragility to emerge, especially as she talks about the Peace Corps, the couple's loss, and the man her husband once was, the man she fell in love with.
The closing monologue has Ken in Oaxaca, Mexico, making a tape-recorded "letter" to his mother and reflecting on his losses.
Such angst could easily become a soapy melodrama in the hands of a less capable playwright or actors.
Baitz's tight, nuanced script is rhythmic and must be delivered at the proper clip and cadence to be effective - both Guajardo and Arnold presented their monologues with impeccable timing, inflection and a few real-human stutters at Sunday's matinee.
Even though Guajardo and Arnold do not interact on stage, director Michael Fenlason, the company's artistic director, blends the actors' performances. You can envision Guajardo's Ken and Arnold's Barbara together in their syncopated lives.
Subtle staging and prop details - the replica of an antique map of the world and the picture of a Chinese checkers game board on the hotel room's wall - add to the metaphor-rich theater experience.
Beowulf Alley's 100-seat theater seemingly puts the audience into the hotel rooms set on the small stage, creating an intimacy that adds to the appreciation of the piece.
After a melancholy stay, Baitz's crisp writing and Beowulf Alley's production ensure that you check out of "Three Hotels" with new perceptions and a sense of hope and possible recompense.
• What: Beowulf Alley Theatre Company's production of "Three Hotels."
• Playwright: Jon Robin Baitz.
• Director: Michael Fenlason.
• When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2:30 p.m. Sundays through Jan. 20.
• Where: Beowulf Alley Theatre, 11 S. Sixth Ave.
•Tickets: $20, with discounts available.
• Reservations, information: beowulfalley.org or 882-0555.
• Running time: 80 minutes, with no intermission.
Did you know?
You may be familiar with Jon Robin Baitz's work.
The playwright originally wrote "Three Hotels" in 1990 for PBS' "American Playhouse" and reworked it a few years later for the stage.
"Three Hotels" has an autobiographical strain - Baitz's father was an executive with the Carnation Co., and he spent time as a child in Brazil and South Africa, and went to high school in the Los Angeles area.
Steven Weber ("Wings") and Maura Tierney ("ER," "NewsRadio") appeared in a "Three Hotels" revival at the Williamstown Theater Festival in Massachusetts in 2011, which collected positive reviews.
Baitz is a prolific writer with a shelf full of writing and drama awards. His work also includes the film "People I Know" starring Al Pacino. He has written for TV series such as the "The West Wing" and "Alias," and was the creator and executive producer of "Brothers & Sisters."
Baitz's "Other Desert Cities," starring Stockard Channing, Stacy Keach, Judith Light and other notable actors, debuted on Broadway in 2011. It was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.