By JOHN DeMERS
Watching a well-crafted movie about anarchy in the streets can be exciting. But watching the actual anarchy, hour after hour and night after night, can end up being boring. The main question about Richard Foreman’s dazzlingly anarchic play about – hmm, sex? – is: Which is it?
Certainly, anarchy rules in this single over-the-top stretch of talking, shouting, crying, screaming, lusting, leering and shooting oneself in the head – more than once, in most cases. And it’s tempting to credit that to (or blame that on) the fact that this production has two directors, Catastrophic mainstays Greg Dean and Troy Schulze, as though maybe the two guys were working at cross purposes with each other. But no, the script gives every indication that Foreman was working at cross purposes with himself.
There’s approximately as much jumping, running and falling down here as in one of the great Marx Brothers comedies – Duck Soup comes to mind, though possibly for no good reason. Yet the three main Marx Brothers were playing characters in that; no matter what their names in the movie, they were playing Groucho, Chico and Harpo, and we knew and loved those characters. We understood them. In Paradise Hotel, despite the fact that characters have names (mostly suggestive and pliable monikers like Drake Van Dyke, Jessica Juggs and Professor Percy Kittens), they in no instance are real characters. We don’t know them one from the other except by hair or costume, and we certainly don’t understand them. The boredom of watching real anarchy on the streets comes to mind.
This play does have a theme, or at least a conceit. A series of unconnected people are somehow going or supposed to go to a hotel, maybe by bus except that never comes, except that the place they’re heading is not in any way called Paradise Hotel – so therefore the play isn’t really titled that either. Where they’re going is the Hotel Fuck, so that’s the real name of this play, except that this play and its characters are in danger of being taken over by a prettied-up “rival play,” titled Hotel Beautiful Roses. Theater lovers may (or may not, I suppose) see a loose-fitting metaphor here for all that’s happened to Broadway. Foreman’s plays are performed mostly in New York, but they are definitely not on Broadway. Still, if this vague notion is the closest thing to a theme on this stage, it becomes little more than a suggestion, a challenge, more or less an affront by the evening’s end.
The single set is the aforementioned hotel, one supposes. Yet the colors and lighting suggest more of a circus, complete with a grinning, fez-wearing ringmaster and strategically placed microphones for brief speeches. Even the bellboys (a bellboy and a bellgirl, actually) are garish and theatricalized enough to serve as the evening’s clowns. And if this is a circus with a ringmaster and clowns, exactly who is that deep, powerful voice who keeps interrupting things and asking that they be done over, always making sure to say please. Is that God? Well, if this play were by Samuel Becket, it probably would be God. And more importantly, we’d know.
The Catastrophic cast seems to be having a great time making us laugh, serving up one long night of mugging for our eventual applause. Drake Simpson’s smile must get tired as Van Dyke the ringmaster, while Matt Carter as Frankie Teardrop, Jessica Janes as Ms. Juggs, George Parker as the inexplicably gown-wearing Martin X and especially Kyle Sturdivant as Professor Kittens must get tired of looking shocked and frightened, like Pee-Wee Herman starring in some new, straight-to-DVD Home Alone.
So there you have it: a lost Marx Brothers classic gone awry, mixed with an unwelcome sequel to an overdone franchise, mixed with the joy of being super-naughty that the cast of The Rocky Horror Show must have felt their first night on any stage. That’s a lot of anarchy in these streets, a heapin’ helpin’ of sound and fury. I wish I could shake the suspicion that it all signifies nothing.
Paradise Hotel, Catastrophic Theatre at Diverse Works. Through February 26. Photos by Anthony Rathbun.