"The Hot L Baltimore," Lanford Wilson's comedy-drama about a motley group of losers who live in the shabby confines of a once elegant small hotel, has the distinction of being set in Charm City. But its characters who dwell on the lowest rung of life's stratum could be part of any city's eroding society.
The play won the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award in 1973.
Staged by a new semi-professional group, Everyman Theatre, this very credible production is being presented at the Vagabond Theatre in Fells Point on weekends through Sept. 15.
The missing "e" in the hotel's neon sign denotes the dilapidated condition of the once elegant edifice, which is slated for demolition any day. The elevator does not work and the hot-water supply is dwindling.
The main residents are: Millie, a refined but fey Southern lady who sees ghosts; Mr. Morse, a cranky old widower who plays an aggressive game of checkers; Jackie, a lesbian and her emotionally retarded brother, Jamie, hoping to seek their fortune with questionable land bought in Utah; Paul, a young man feverishly seeking his lost grandfather; April, a big "heart of gold" prostitute; Suzy, a streetwise yet childlike hopeful going back to live with her abusive pimp; an incredibly optimistic prostitute known only as The Girl (she keeps changing her name) who keeps a sharp eye on train arrivals and departures at the nearby station.
The time is Memorial Day and these dregs of humanity have little else to do than sit around the shabby hotel lobby waiting for the end. While they are waiting they air their grievances, dreams and fears.
The dialogue ranges from lyrical philosophy to commercial hilarity. There is no plot -- just slices of sordid little lives hung out on the line for our scrutiny. Within this framework the play works well although this version, directed by Vincent Lancisi, needs faster pace, sharper comedy timing and greater theatrical vitality on the part of the actors.
As Suzy, Connie Winston gives a truly dimensional performance. Flamboyant and dynamic, Winston with her flashing golden eyelids, outlandish dress and charismatic personality, gives the kind of excellent high-level characterization this production demands.
Daniel Escobar is outstanding as the frightened, insecure Jamie. The actor offers an in-depth, sensitive interpretation that is utterly devastating in its tragic implications.
James Potter turns in a splendid performance as the feisty old man fighting for his very existence.
Kyle Prue is professionally fine as the young man who mysteriously abandons the search for his grandfather.
In the complex role of Jackie, a restless, suppressed spirit, Johanne Rodriguez is very believable but needs to sharpen her responses and refine her projection of character.
As The Girl, Audrey Wasilewski is exuberant enough but at times seems just a bit too preciously self-indulgent for the role. Brilane Bowman, as April, underplays this wise-cracking part, which calls not only for a magnanimous nature but strong, well-timed vocal delivery that does not obscure Wilson's delightful humor.
Sabine Herts is an endearing Millie who has seen better days. Loretto McNally is simply ineffectual as a vague mother picking up her son's possessions. Alison Claire, as a hotel clerk, distracts with her overblown Baltimore accent.
As other hotel clerks Sean McDonough and Brian Applestein (both talented actors) do not seem the least concerned with the plight of the hotel or its guests. These are the kind of thankless roles that actors must create out of their own personalities. It is a real test of the actor's interpretive ability.
David Dossey as a cab driver and Reggie Davis as a pizza delivery man shine in these cameo roles. Thomas Kelso convinces as one of Suzy's loud-mouthed clients.
John Cynkar designed the solid hotel lobby set.
All in all, "The Hot L Baltimore" makes for a generally entertaining evening.