The Hot L Baltimore
Tina Landau's production of Lanford WIlson's landmark play is full of strong directorial choices.
To begin with, half of the cast are African-Americans, including those playing the Hotel Baltimore's staff: night clerk Bill Lewis (Jon Michael Hill), day clerk Mr. Katz (James Vincent Meredith), and manager Mrs. Oxenham (TaRon Patton). If Landau is making a statement through this non-traditional casting, especially given the play's 1973 time period when Civil Rights battles and Vietnam both were being fought, it isn't readily apparent.
Another defining aspect of the production is scenic designer James Schuette's towering, three-story set, which offers cut-away views of the second floor guest rooms, so we see Millie (Molly Regan), Mr. Morse (Yasen Peyankov), Suzy (Kate Arrington), and April (de'Adre Aziza) in their rooms, when they are not onstage. We also see them in bathrobes and underwear walking to and from the hotel's shared bathrooms, to little necessary effect.
Landau has also introduced a musical ghost: an elegantly-dressed man (Sean Allan Krill) of an earlier era, who glides wordlessly and at-will through the hotel corridors and rooms, unnoticed by others, softly crooning popular songs of the 1930's or 1940's as background music. Then, mid-way through Act II, he and Millie take focus for a full-out duet of "Stardust." There are other musical moments as well, among them Mrs. Belloti (Jacqueline Williams) singing a blues number in the box-filled room occupied by her son.
While Wilson's dialogue makes the characters and story elements readily apparent, Landau's decision to employ overlapping conversations -- which may have slice-of-life truth (especially in a large hotel lobby) -- robs some of the work's theatrical effectiveness. A few "big" speeches still stand out, especially with the lights dimmed around the character delivering the speech, but most of the dialogue is given equal weight throughout rather than delivered for impact. More problematically, Landau eschews the play's comedy.