THE HOTEL PLAYS.
Written by Tennessee William.
Directed by Fred Abrahamse, with Nicole Franco, Marcel Meyer, Melissa Haiden, Stephen Jubber.
At The Vineyard Hotel today and August 13, 19 and 20
TRACEY SAUNDERS reviews: For many hotels are either places of transit or holiday destinations, teeming with salesmen and conference goers while honeymooners and leisure travellers recline languidly. For the American playwright Tennessee Williams, hotels were his home and ultimately the place of his death.
In New Orleans, the place he called his spiritual home, he often frequented the Hotel Maison de Ville, so much so that his regular room now bears his name. He ended his life in a hotel that was his home, the Hotel Elysee in Manhattan. In the years in between and in hotels across the USA along with his prolific writing he penned what have become know as The Hotel Plays, a collection of short plays set in hotels, mostly bedrooms. He often used hotels as settings for his one act plays, The Mutilated on South Rampart Street in New Orleans, The Remarkable Rooming-House of Mme Le Monde takes place in a London garret to mention just two.
The hotel room is more than a place and in both the plays staged at The Vineyard as part of this season they are as much a state of mind and offer a type of individual and relationship limbo for the characters. One which the audience are invited to share as voyeurs. The format for the evening is unique and while the hotel is renowned for its pairing of food and wine, the coupling of the gritty Williams plays with the rather genteel setting of Lady Anne Barnard’s home is an unexpected one. Upon arrival drinks are served and once the first course has been completed half of the audience retires to the Green Room upstairs and the other to the Blue Room.
The imposing wooden canopied four poster bed takes pride of place in the large room tinged with blue, the setting for Talk to me like the rain and let me listen. The sound of rain is ever present as we meet a Man (Marcel Meyer) and a Woman (Nicole Franco). He seems to be more present, more tangible than she is and his state of loneliness is implied rather than expressed. Meyer brings a quiet brooding desperation to the role of a man who is mostly silent as he listens to the almost soporific lament of Franco, as steady as the rain she recounts her wish to be anonymous, invisible.
She is the embodiment of a sentiment Williams once expressed, “When so many are lonely as seem to be lonely, it would be inexcusably selfish to be lonely alone.” She seeks a place that is “beyond the edge of the space” and aspires to read novels and poetry, to establish “friendships with dead poets” that are “sweet and cool” as she “won’t have to touch them or answer their questions”.
In her bedraggled state, subsisting only on water her potential disappearance seems plausible. The intimacy between the pair is tangible, and while there is an absence of physical touch the raw emotional connection between them is fierce. This is the more lyrical of the pieces and the cool blue tones, Franco’s hypnotic voice and the very present stillness of Meyer are captivating. The play ends too soon and you are left wondering why she wants to disappear and what he will do when she does. Her desperate gaze in the mirror to a place beyond a place and time haunts you as you leave the room, as ethereal as Lady Anne Barnard’s ghost which is said to linger in the passages.
Green Eyes, is the second play, or the first depending which sequence you visit the rooms and is staged in a suite which mirrors the other with the major difference the colour of the light, a green hue, the colour of jealousy and envy. Here the couple are younger, a boy (Stephen Jubber) and a girl (Melissa Haiden) at the beginning of a relationship. Haiden is naked, bruises and scratches are visible on her pale skin and while she dons a green silk robe her emotions remain raw and exposed throughout the play. Jubber is a soldier, on leave from Vietnam and he carries the war with him to this more intimate battleground.
The source of his new bride’s injuries are revealed as are his contradictory emotions about taking part in a war. While she appears battered and bruised the Girl seethes with a violent energy and there is moment in the play when she reclaims her power with such a deliberate sense of purpose that we aren’t drawn to pity her. Haiden is as fierce as a tigress and toys with her prey with a playful sadism that is beguiling. The boy , Jubber. cuts a sympathetic character as he draws deeply from a large bottle of bourbon burning with envy and ashamed of his cowardice. Passion frizzles between them with a smouldering intensity and the sexual tension in the room is palpable, more so than if one was experiencing the piece in a traditional theatre environment.
The plays straddle the space between immersive and site-specific theatre. While the audience are not complicit in the narrative at any stage they inhabit a strange voyeuristic space, and the intimacy of the space is so intense as to be another member of the cast. The questions posed in Green Eyes are more ambiguous and again the play is of such a length that you are left wanting more.
Williams was a remarkable writer and while he is better known for The Glass Menagerie and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof it is a delicious treat to rediscover his writing in these small gems. He is a writer that makes you want to pick up a pen and stop the world with words. Checking in to a hotel in order to do so is not a prerequisite but does seems rather a beguiling option.