You could make up a lot of things in your head about a play called Hotel Fuck before ever entering the theater. Written by Richard Foreman for the Ontological-Hysteric Theatre in 1998, Hotel Fuck (hereinafter to be referred to as HF) makes it its business to defy description and assault your sensibilities, most particularly regarding any remnants of prudishness you might have left regarding the act of sexual intercourse.
It has an interesting beginning. It has a lengthy, eventually tedious middle filled with raunchy comedy, enervating ensemble work, some outstanding individual performances, sound and fury aplenty…… but no ending. After an hour or so, it just stops.
So WTF happened? Well, nothing really. HF is sort of a combination of Waiting for Godot and the Kingston Trio’s “Charlie on the M.T.A.”: “Well did he ever return, no, he never returned and his fate is still unlearned. He will ride forever through the streets of Boston. He’s the man who never returned.” (repeat over and over several times) If you can wrap your mind around Samuel Becket on the same stage with the Kingston Trio you can start to get a sense of the 2011 version of Foreman’s 1998 avant garde play. But don’t hold me to that.
Apparently Christopher Henley, who both directed and played a principal role in the piece, has a fascination with Foreman’s work and decided the Fringe Festival is the perfect venue for it. Bravo, I say. It is, indeed, the perfect venue. Henley and his cast are to be congratulated for making some very fine chicken salad out of some dusty old chicken feathers. The Fringe Festival has a share in their triumph having given Henley the freedom he was seeking to explore the outermost edges of what he and his crew can do.
They have forged an ensemble piece here that literally carries the audience along on the sheer strength of their energy and ingenuity. The play is wonderfully choreographed and moves at breakneck speed, barely giving one time to laugh at some of the terrific comic moments generated by a fine cast.
It was almost impossible to take my eyes off Jay Hardee who gives one of the finest funniest female impersonations I’ve ever witnessed. Hardee employs a variety of accents ranging from Nazi German to honeydew, deep-south Alabama to red-neck Arkansas. He moves in and out of them so quickly, complimented by some excruciatingly funny facial contortions, that I was not entirely certain even he knew which accent was coming next. And there was never a doubt as to his sex on stage. He is all woman.
Frank Britton, as Giza von Goldenheim, commanded the stage from time to time and rivaled Hardee with his flair for different personas and voices and his comic timing. Henley himself, taking the role of Tony Turbo, is a dead ringer for Michael Palin of Monty Python fame. He is every bit as funny as Palin when the situation calls for mock indignation or perhaps just the right twist of an off color insult.
Henley is to be commended in particular for his direction. This company threw its heart and soul, as well as the rest of its body parts, into this show. Their group dynamics were as precise as a Ballanchine ballet, and their timing was impeccable. The imagination employed in the use of a variety of phallic props was terribly clever and often side-splittingly funny.
James Majewski and William Hayes have the misfortune of sharing the stage with Hardee, Britton and Henley. Both are young and exceedingly earnest yet do not have the distinguishing physical features and natural comic presence of the others. They are fine actors, however, and blend in seamlessly when it’s time for the ensemble unit to click into action (which is quite often) – no small feat by any means. Gabriel Swee does nicely as the playwright’s pawn, a sort of twisted “Deus Ex Machina,” as well as with an impressive variety of walk-on characters.
The performance does get a little tedious at some point. It is mostly loud and fast without much variety in the pace or tone until it slows down near the very end before coming to that aforementioned screeching halt. I began wondering when and how it would end at some point and stole furtive glances at my watch only to be drawn back lest I miss something really, really funny and adventuresome.
All in all, it is a bravura performance on the part of WSC and more than enough to whet the appetite to see one of their main stage presentations.
A note about the rating system: Were I to rate the play on the basis of its strengths and weaknesses as a script, it would get a 1 (lowest rating). Were I to rate only the energy, cleverness, and theatrical prowess of the directing and acting, I would be tempted to give it a 5 (highest rating). Because it is such a thoroughly enjoyable theatregoing experience and in spite of the weaknesses in the script, it deserves a “4.”
Also, just for the record, a recent HBO miniseries credits Henry VIII with the giving us the word “fuck” – an anagram for “Fornication Under Consent of the King.”