Review of The Hotel Nepenthe at Yale Cabaret The Yale Cabaret is back this week with a show that certainly puts its cast through its paces. John Kuntz’s The Hotel Nepenthe, directed by Rachel Carpman, is designed to be a daunting show for a small cast to pull off in a small space, giving us numerous vignettes with four actors playing a range of parts. The storylines converge in odd details—a car accident, a missing baby, a hatbox, fairy wings, snatches of song—“Afternoon Delight” anyone?—and references. Kuntz doesn’t offer a story so much as entertain us with possibilities of what Dragnet’s Joe Friday used to refer to as the city’s “million stories.” It’s all just random stuff happening, and so are we.
Kuntz’s skill is in concocting interesting tête à tête exchanges where characters use dialogue to find out who they’re with and what’s going on. It might be the oddly goofy seduction of a hotel worker (Bradley James Tejeda) by a rental car receptionist (Annelise Lawson), or the scheming wife of a presidential candidate (Lawson) who hires an agreeable street-walker (Emily Reeder), or an unsuspecting client (Galen Kane) picked up by a dubious cabbie (Tejeda), or a comforting cab dispatcher (Kane) chatting up an eerily detached woman (Reeder) with a baby. Kuntz’s sense of dialogue—which Carpman’s cast gamely embraces—involves odd non sequitur (some of which add up), intriguing musings, and, often, a surprising reveal, such as the whereabouts of the actual cab-driver, the contents of the hat-box the hotel worker left with the receptionist, and the job for which the hooker is hired.
A lively comic set-piece features variations on a demand for bags to be carried to the honeymoon suite in which Kane and Tejeda run a gamut from screwball comedy to hand-to-hand combat to sexual acts to Twilight Zone noir (complete with trademark theme song). Special mention as well to Reeder’s comic scene of riding cowgirl to climax while taking “getting off on name-dropping” to new heights, and her body-work as a reanimated accident victim is also impressive. To Kane falls some of the more humanly centered roles, like his genial Cosby-like cab dispatcher, while Tejeda finds great “gee-whiz” comedy in a confession of being sexually harassed, at seven, by a female classmate, and Lawson’s daffy rendition of TV theme songs sets the tone from the start.
What’s it all about? Apparently, a take-off on the possibility of life being like the stuff that happens in films, plays, and television, where every encounter has “something to do” with the story. Kuntz’s play depicts a world where strangers tend to act like people in improv skits and where a detail let drop in one scene can be the gestation point for a later scene. Thus it’s a fast-paced leap into a Wonderland view of the postmodern world where everything’s up for pastiche, and where everything has to do with some kind of renegade wish fulfillment. And it’s to the credit of the Cab show’s director, cast, and designers—Joey “The Workhorse” Moro (Sets), Caitlin Smith Rapoport (Lights), Christina King and Sydney Gallas (Costumes), Sinan Zafar (Sound)—that some of that creepy late night feel of a seedy hotel seeps into the proceedings. In addition to classic TV like the Twilight Zone, I was reminded of Jim Jarmusch films like Night on Earth and Mystery Train crossed with David Lynch—and if that sounds appealing to you, you don’t want to miss this.
In the end, Kuntz’s script is a bit too self-satisfied with its name-drops and allusions, and its sense of the wacky and the deadly never becomes nightmarish—as with Lynch—and rarely as helplessly human as Jarmusch. Still, there’s mystery and comedy, and plenty of room at the The Hotel Nepenthe. Why not stay awhile and see what happens?
The Hotel Nepenthe By John Kuntz Directed by Rachel Carpman
Dramaturg: Taylor Barfield; Sets: Joey Moro; Costumes: Christina King, Sydney Gallas; Lights: Caitlin Smith Rapoport; Sound: Sinan Zafar; Stage Manager: Avery Trunko; Production Manager: Lee O’Reilly; Producer: Sarah Williams; Run Crew: Flo Low
Yale Cabaret November 6-8, 2014