Theater review by Jenna Scherer. The Bushwick Starr (see the Off-Off List). By Eliza Bent. Dir. Anna Brenner. With ensemble cast. 2hrs. No intermission.
What’s the difference between saying “I’m Bill” and “I call myself Bill”? Is the first speaker fundamentally more Bill than the second? Such stonery questions float through the mind while watching The Hotel Colors, Eliza Bent’s language experiment of a play. The setup is pretty typical. Six travelers, all Italians, converge on a Roman hostel one holiday weekend. You know the drill: They’re the types who would normally never give each other the time of day, but squeeze them in a tiny room and strangers become strange bedfellows.
What sets The Hotel Colors apart is its central conceit: Bent, who is bilingual, wrote the dialogue in direct translation from Italian to English—idioms, Latinate constructions and all. So, for example, “I’m sorry” becomes “I ask excuse of formal you.” Our brains perform the final step of interpretation, but the process makes you think about how what gets lost in translation often says something fundamental about the culture the language comes from. It’s also, frequently, really funny. (“Pig misery! Bitch prostitute!” one character swears to himself.)
The drama underneath the gimmick, however, needs work. It’s great fun to watch the sundry characters interact—the pantsless signora, the party girl in crisis mode, the vagabonding scuzzball, etc. But the stakes are tiny, and the mid-show arrival of a figure conveniently linked to two characters’ pasts is contrived. Still, Anna Brenner’s production glides along on its amiable vibe and naturalistic performances (not to mention gratis wine and pizza for the audience). With a little scriptorial finessing, Hotel Colors could become not just a fascinating exercise but a solid play to boot.—Jenna Scherer