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‘The Hot L Baltimore’ at Spotlighters Theatre by Amanda Gunther

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What do three hookers of various age and experience, a cantankerous old man, a sweet southern story teller, a disturbed young lesbian and her equally disturbed kid brother have in common? They all live in a rent-by-the-week crumbling hotel in the center of Baltimore. That’s the story you will witness as the Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre presents The Hot L Baltimore.

Directed by Eric C. Stein the play focuses around the everyday life of the residents at the once grand hotel Baltimore. Now it’s deteriorating, like so many once grand things about the city, left to sit and rot from the inside out. And when the tenants face the disaster of being evicted so that the building can be demolished – they begin to realize how very much their lives are just like that of the hotel – once grand and now falling to pieces.

Foreground: Girl (Ann Turiano) and Millie (Hillary Mazer) Background: Cast of 'Hot L Baltimore. Photo by Ken Stanek - Ken Stanek Photography.

Set on Memorial Day in 1971, there is no mistaking that you’ve entered the seventies thanks to Costume Designer Eric C. Stein. Everyone is in raging colors and patterns that scream the start of that decade. Stein uses the fashionable busy print hair scarves on many of the women, giving them the very laid back yet classy look of the era. There’s a burnt orange courderoy suit for one of the johns, and a seafoam blue Dacron Polyester Silk kimono for one of the hookers; the color pattern and zany shoes – including a pair of six-inch cheetah print wedged strappy sandals – really invite the audience into the setting of the play.

Doubling up as the Set Designer, Stein creates a full functioning hotel front desk with a swinging door and fashions the rest of the stage to look like the front of a casually lived in lobby. There is a staircase off to the back that leads up to the four stories of rooms, creating depth and a larger notion of space. Stein manages to give the hotel a tacky feel with faded greens and yellows in the color scheme, reflecting how the glory days of this establishment have all but faded away.

While the hotel may be derelict and faded – the characters found within are anything but. Their lives are each as different as could be; but they all share the commonality of having found a home of sorts within the walls of the hotel and when the notion of losing that home becomes a reality they each handle it in their own way; realizing that their differences are not all that different. Director Eric C. Stein orchestrates brilliant moments of absolute chaos on the stage with this text. The end of Act I comes to a culminating explosion of voices – people shouting and arguing, physically scuffling at one another – a cacophony of noise to split your ears open. But this scene is well executed and there is a raw believability to this outburst. This and other moments like it craft a striking reality to this show.

Everyone has their own issues  but there is one character that seems to tie them all together. Girl (Ann Turiano) is the 19 year-old hooker who has been everywhere. Turiano creates an energetic and at times exhausting character. You feel fatigued just watching her constantly bouncing from one person to the next. But she is captivating and compelling as she interacts with each person in the hotel, her bubbly nature not as contagious perhaps as she’d like; but effective in its room-startling presence. Turiano carries the show with her spastic inconsistent outbursts over things like the trains coming and going on time. Her spirit is the perfect dichotomy of flighty yet grounded; being aloof in moments of fantasy and consideration while facing reality with determination and sincerity. Turiano is a delight to see fitted in this role and makes the show that much enjoyable because of her bright shining eyes and innocent features.

(l to r) Girl (Ann Turiano) and Millie (Hillary Mazer). Photo by Ken Stanek - Ken Stanek Photography.

What makes this play particularly unique is its cast of supporting characters who will woo you into loving and caring about their situation without very much effort. There’s Mr. Morse (Denis L. Latkowski) who is the epitome of a crotchety old codger who has nothing better to do than complain or insist his opinions are fact. Latkowski embodies this character with the stereotypical stilted movements of the elderly and allows us to view that slightly vulnerable side – by dazing off into his complaints because they are all he has left in the world.

The two hookers who occupy the hotel outside of Girl are also comically compelling. April (Beverly Shannon) is the obnoxious sassy woman with a chip on her shoulder and concern for only herself. Shannon is wild and feisty as she struts about the stage talking of conquests in her profession, but she also has her subdued moments, falling back into a more quiet portrayal with simple facial shifts and gestures. The other hooker is Suzy (Kate Shoemaker). She’s equally as sassy but in a very tacky style. From her clothes to her mouth everything about Shoemaker screams loud – and when she and Shannon get into a blowup near the end of the show the cattiness starts flying like sparks from a live wire.

There’s poor Jamie (Brian M. Kehoe) who does a superior job of physicalizing the emotional abuse of his sister Jackie (April Rejman). Kehoe develops several nervous ticks that are just subtle enough to be noticed uncertainly, and when he recedes back into himself it further expresses his shy nature. Kehoe is wound up in his own little world and it reflects well to the audience. And then there is Mr. Katz (Andrew Porter) who is the visual example of sleaze incarnate. Porter looks every bit the stereotypical sleazeball from the 70’s, looking to pick  you up without any good intentions. He adapts a nasally upstate accent and channels his frustration through his lips and his eyes when addressing problem characters like Jackie.

The woman who will capture your heart is Millie (Hillary Mazer). With a touch of yesteryore’s southern elegance, Mazer slips into her rocking chair like the mother of the hotel; fondly reminiscing over stories in her past. Her voice has the slow drip of molasses in the summertime, gently slipping out from her lips as she tells her tales, making you want to lay your head on her lap and listen as you sip chilled lemonade. Mazer brings a sweet southern flavor to this production with her masterful approach to her southern accent, and her portrayal of the character brings a sense of warm hominess to the show.

So beat the wrecking ball and catch this cast of crazies down at Spotlighters Theatre before The Hot L Baltimore gets rolled out of town.

(l to r) Suzy (Kate Shoemaker) Girl (Ann Turiano) Jamie (Brian M. Kehoe) April (Beverly Shannon) and Bill (Steven Shriner). Photo by Ken Stanek - Ken Stanek Photography.

Running Time: Two hours and 20 minutes, with one intermission.

The Hot L Baltimore plays through June 24, 2012 at The Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre – 817 Saint Paul Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 752-1225, or purchase them online.

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