The 2011-2012 School of Theatre and Dance production season began with its opener “Hot L Baltimore” over the weekend.
Directed by Leslie Swackhamer and written by the revered Lanford Wilson, the play revealed itself to be a zeitgeist of the early 1970s, revisiting the decade’s entrancing spirit.
The opening scene is led by the folk song “City of New Orleans,” which inspired Wilson to write the play. The song’s hazy tune and reverberating vocals set the scene for the dilapidated Hotel Baltimore.
The residents of Hotel Baltimore include the elderly and prostitutes who habitually wander into the lobby, discussing whatever happens to be on their mind and often feed off each other’s foibles.
When word gets out that the hotel is set to go under, residents are outraged and burst into fits of emotional panic. The play is set entirely in the hotel’s rustic lobby, and is illuminated by a yellow glow. Characters funnel in and out, many throwing tantrums in bipolar bouts and returning affably.
After long, the stagnancy of the lobby along with the wacky dialogue makes for a long and foggy trip. The character wardrobe consists of bell-bottoms, big collars and plaid patterns.
Jackie, an annoying loud-mouth played by junior Sarah Cortez, tells her dreams of becoming a farmer with lines like, “Lettuce has opium in it if you know how to get it out,” and expounds on her scientific knowledge.
Wilson’s play hones long, complex dialogue with overlapping conversations that are disorienting at times. Tim Sailer, a first-year MFA student, plays the role of Bill Lewis, a level-headed hotel employee acting as a voice of reason throughout the onslaught of residential complaints and distress.
Occupant antics set him off at times, causing him to stare then explode with frustration. Zoquera Milburn takes on the role of a young prostitute with a sweet, bubbly personality, entertaining the crowd with her fascination with trains and dreams of being in contact with a supernatural world.
Her interaction with other lobby-dwellers conjures some of the more passionate insights within the play. She harnesses hope as she yearns for a modern-day miracle.
Her interest in meaningful face-to-face conversation exposes other bitter characters pummeled with troubles and sorrows, not so much looking for redemption but mirroring their own depression.
The final act opens as light fades and re-emerges with a blue haze. Cold psychedelic rock music gives off a murky atmosphere that sticks around until the play’s hysterical end.
The 15-member cast behind “Hot L Baltimore” put on a strong performance in all, successfully opening the season and leading the way for other productions.