What might singer/songwriter Don Henley, founding member of the pop group The Eagles, think if he knew he was being immortalized in an off-beat tribute deep in the recesses of New York City's St. Marks Place?
Hotel California is being billed as the first in a series of "short plays" from comic actors Richard Harrington and Chris Kauffman, who work as closely as, dare I say it, a comedy team. The show is less of a play than an hour-long alternative comedy performance, yet it defies the alternative ground rules set forth by Janeane Garafolo and the majority of performers at places such as New York's Luna Lounge by being both funny and entertaining.
Harrington and Kauffman make frequent re-appearances from behind the patchwork curtain, which adorns an otherwise empty stage, integrating physical and wry humor with quirky musical interludes. The thread that runs through Hotel California is the tale of Gustave Flaubert (played by Harrington), including the influence of Henley's classic pop song on his life and how he was inspired to become a freelance killer in South America. Kauffman, meanwhile, masterfully provides the counterbalance to Harrington's dry absurdist story-telling with a physical comedy mime-performance of Gustave's story. Kauffman also uses an array of props, including the ongoing "official" presentation of the accordion, which he uses to back his derisive lyrics.
It's hard not to like the pair, especially when they break during the performance to hand out free beers or soda to an appreciative small audience. There is a Monty Python-esque influence with a serious reading of a tawdry tale of Henley's typical pop-star decadent behavior penned by a prostitute. The show is further broken into a series of comedic components with an audience quiz, and with performances by guests. (On this particular evening, a singer/songwriter performed a wry folk song about a dog run, and an alternative comic translated English into the high pitched squeal of Dolphin Speak in an entertaining piece.)
Hotel California is low-key, minimalist comedy--subtle, dry, yet effective if you play along and embrace the absurd characters for what they are. While some of the bits that evolve from the story-telling work better than others, there is a sense that both writer/performers have honed their skills and built their roots in comedy, unlike many of their alternative counterparts who haven't studied the craft.
If there is any pitfall to the performance, it is a longing to go one step deeper into the story that makes up this "tribute". For example, Gustave's meeting with his pop icon is set up from the start, yet there is no fulfilling comedic scene to payoff that encounter. There is also little explanation of how Gustave has grown from his days of murder and mayhem to needing to recount this portion of his life to others. The show as a whole seems unfinished, yet both Harrington and Kauffman do entertain. Perhaps still a work in progress in need of some tightening, Hotel California might be best presented as part of a larger comedic event, such as the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colorado, or the Just For Laughs Comedy Festival across the border in Montreal.
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