The double bill of plays that comprise the long evening (nearly four hours to be precise) are epic in not just length but scope: Derek Ahonen's Pink Knees on Pale Skin examines the intricacies of marriages that are on the brink of collapsing, while Adam Rapp's Animals and Plants gives us a glimpse of the more primal side of human nature.
Both works take place in real time, and the action unfolds just a few feet away from where we sit. Indeed, there's something thrilling about being in such an intimate space with the actors nearby and only about 20 other audience members, who are positioned around the perimeter of the stage.
For Pink Knees, which is presented first, audience members are called individually from the lobby and escorted to their "rooms," which consist of an usher setting up a chair in a particular space of the square-shaped, gothically elegant room. Early arrivers are spaced in their own corners, but as the room fills up, the gaps slowly disappear. A piano player (Phil Carluzzo) punches out eerie melodies that foreshadow the strangeness to come.
The more voyeuristic and lighter of the two plays, Pink Knees begins as psychologist Sarah Bauer (Sarah Lemp) explains how she uses group sex (or the threat of it) to mend intimacy problems between couples. What could easily become silly or sensationalistic proves to be deeply moving due to the sharply observed, honest writing and nuanced performances, notably the compelling Anna Stromberg as a comedian who cannot orgasm. The play references Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which can be dangerous because it naturally invites comparisons, but Ahonen does mine some of the same psychological territory with pretty satisfying results.
Animals and Plants is squarely in Adam Rapp's comfort zone, an alternatingly hilarious and terrifying slice of life about a couple of dangerous misfits holed up in a taxidermy-decorated hotel room in Boone, North Carolina during a snow storm. Dantly (William Apps) and Burris (Matthew Pilieci) are partners in a drug business and friends who talk about girls and share random details of their lives with each other as they wait for a phone call to make an important deal.
Rapp has crafted a great set up that turns seemingly mindless banter into increasingly building tension as we (and his characters) wait for something to happen. The play begins and ends in startling and unexpected ways that challenge theatrical conventions, and it's thoroughly enjoyable -- if often in an uncomfortable way.
Rapp and Ahonen both direct their own plays, and both are keenly aware of timing, which thankfully makes the four hours fly by. HotelMotel is an incredibly immersive experience that could substitute for a quick summer getaway in a pinch as it transports its audience to weird and wonderful worlds.