News / Theater & Performance

Hotel rooms are the new Off Broadway

Insignificance
Photograph: Jenny Anderson Insignificance

New York is overrun with hotels. By some estimates there are nearly 300 in Manhattan, housing upwards of 110,000 rooms. By contrast, there are 40 Broadway houses and barely double that number of decent Off Broadway venues. It was only a matter of time before a cast and crew checked in at the lobby. Currently, by coincidence, there are two professional productions playing in hotel rooms. One is A Foreign Body, a sizzling psychodrama written by Neena Beber and directed by Theresa Rebeck, being performed in Room 3412 at Le Parker Meridien. The other is a revival of Terry Johnson’s 1982 period fantasia Insignificance (pictured above), which puts Marilyn Monroe, Albert Einstein, Joseph McCarthy and Joe DiMaggio in the same New York hotel room. You can catch that curtain on the fifth floor of Langham Place.

I saw A Foreign Body last night (no review since it’s a work-in-progress) and found myself alternately leaning in and backing off from the intense give-and-take between the actors. The magnificent John Glover (so charming even as a sleazy heel) plays a Roman Polanski–like film auteur confronted by a woman (Hettienne Park, thrillingly vengeful) he slept with 25 years ago, when she was a teen. The room is charged with sexual energy, revulsion and the threat that violence might occur. It will be interesting to see where the play goes—in terms of fine-tuning and location. If you have the stomach for work about sexual violation and the toll of traumatic memory, you could try a two-show day of A Foreign Body and Blackbird.

To be sure, site-specific theater is not new. Anne Hamburger’s En Garde Arts has been doing it for decades, and immersive theater is all the rage with the long-running Sleep No More and erotically themed newcomer The Grand Paradise.

What’s different about seeing a play in a hotel room is the aura of sex, secrets and anonymity such spaces evoke. Fearless troupe the Amoralists used the Gershwin Hotel as the venue for its 2011 double bill Hotel/Motel. The same year I reviewed an obscure Tennessee Williams two-hander called Green Eyes, featuring feral diva Erin Markey. Even the British are catching on: last year in London Wallace Shawn’s The Fever was presented in a swanky suite.

Tying these experiments together is the fact that they're actually quite literal: the plays are set in hotels. What happens when a director wants to set, say, A Doll’s House at a Holiday Inn? Just a stunt or brilliant recontextualization? We shall see. For now, when visitors check in at the front desk, not only will they get their free copy of Time Out New York (naturally), they may be directed to the touching but humorous relationship drama starting soon on the seventh floor.

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