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BWW Reviews: Check Into Horovitz's 6 HOTELS at Hub Theatre Company of Boston

6 Hotels

Written by Israel Horovitz, Directed by John Geoffrion and Daniel Bourque; Stage Manager, Kelly Smith; Lighting Design, Michael Clark Wonson; Set, Props, Projections, Marc Ewart; Sound and Music Design, Andrew Paul Jackson; Costume Design, Sara Tess Neuman; Fight Choreography, Johnnie McQuarley; Dialect Coach, Danny Bryck; Tap Coach, Rachel Solomon; String Instrument Coach, Andrew Paul Jackson

CAST: Lauren Elias, Johnnie McQuarley, Ashley Risteen, Matthew Zahnzinger

Performances through November 22 by Hub Theatre Company of Boston at Club Café, 209 Columbus Avenue, Boston, MA; Tickets for all shows are pay-what-you-can;

Hub Theatre Company of Boston draws the curtain on its second season with the Boston premiere of 6 Hotels by homegrown playwright Israel Horovitz. Under the co-direction of Artistic Director John Geoffrion and Artistic Associate Daniel Bourque, the play consists of half a dozen vignettes that take place in hotel rooms, bars, and restaurants. Other than by their settings and happenstance, these slices of life are mostly unrelated, yet share comedic and poignant DNA, with four actors playing twenty-two characters who try - and often fail - to connect.

These struggles are not limited to love, although the opening story, indelicately titled "Speaking of Tushy," follows two jilted men (Johnnie McQuarley, Matthew Zahnzinger) who meet in a bar and discover that they've led parallel love lives. As their mutual object of affection, Ashley Risteen cold-heartedly turns the tables on them in this amusing little memory play directed by Bourque. It is the first of five distinctive characterizations by Risteen who obviously is having a blast in her Hub debut and steals the show. Her bit as an inexperienced actress tap dancing her heart out at an audition truly shows her versatility. Peering out into the darkness to address the disembodied voice (McQuarley) of the man judging her limited talents, Risteen makes us laugh and root for her winning, sympathetic character at the same time.

Each cast member gets a chance to shine and Lauren Elias has her moment as a professional waitress in a foodie restaurant in "Fiddleheads and Lovers." You've never seen anyone describe the menu's specials so lovingly, and Elias plays it straight when she details what a drudge it was to have to take acting jobs before she achieved her dream to be a waitress. She is better suited as the perky server than the other woman in a second act sketch ("The Hotel Play") which requires more nuance. Unfortunately, there is insufficient chemistry between the lovers to make us believe that the tryst has been going on for four years, so the poignance of the break-up is lost.

Last in the lineup, "2nd Violin" features Elias as Evvie, an insecure so-called 2nd chair nervously practicing for her turn as the soloist. Sharing her dressing room and cheering her on is Catherine (Risteen), a confident cellist with a lot of patience. McQuarley is the stage manager who keeps entering the room at indelicate moments, and Zahnzinger plays Sergei, the conductor, with the right amount of pomposity and self-love, as well as a decent Russian accent. Much of this sketch consists of the women repeatedly going over the same segment of music with Evvie inevitably screwing it up. The sound track is lovely to listen to, but it is distracting at best and painful at worst to watch the actors pretending to play their instruments. It may be too much to expect proper positioning of the hands, but, at the very least, they should move their bows for the sound of each note.

In general, the three light-hearted pieces land better than the darker ones, with the exception of "Beirut Rocks." Although some audience members were scratching their heads about the inclusion of the heavily political vignette, it is a powerful segment set in a hotel room shared by four American college students awaiting evacuation from Lebanon during the Hezbollah airstrikes in 2006. McQuarley displays great range portraying Benjy, the only Jew in the room and a golf nut from Middlebury College, who laments that he couldn't get into Stanford. His confidence that they'll be rescued quickly does little to calm the nerves of Jake (Zahnzinger), the Irish guy from Harvard who quakes with the realistic sounds (kudos to designer Andrew Paul Jackson) of each explosion outside their window. The heat is turned up when they are joined by two women, Stanford student Sandy (Elias) and Nasa (Risteen), a Palestinian dressed in a black full-body cloak and head scarf. Benjy's rage and Nasa's defiance go toe-to-toe as Jake, Sandy, and the audience await the fallout.

Geoffrion and Bourque make good use of the space in the back room at Club Café. The actors sit at the bar or at a high top table for a couple of the scenes, while the stage is set for the action in the hotel rooms. Marc Ewart's design features red, gray, and gold bedding, framed by velvet curtains, and he announces each segment with a projection of its title and a scene on two large screens on either side of the room. The lighting challenges are handled well by Michael Clark Wonson as he establishes the right mood for bar, restaurant, bedroom, and war zone, and Sara Tess Neuman finds appropriate costumes for all occasions. Danny Bryck is the Dialect Coach and Tap Coach is Rachel Solomon.

6 Hotels is a wonderful opportunity to experience the eclectic talent of local treasure Horovitz, who happened to be in attendance for the Saturday evening performance. In a talk back after the show, he regaled the audience with back stories for some of the segments and explained that a handful of his other short one-acts are rotated in and out of the lineup. On the heels of Hub Theatre's production of Horovitz's Lebensraum last season, it appears that the young company has forged a good relationship with the prolific playwright. It will be good for Boston theater if they continue to choose from his canon.

Photo credit: Tim Gurczak Photography (Matthew Zahnzinger, Johnnie McQuarley)

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