When a Play Plays the Rhythm

the hot l baltimore @ steppenwolf, 4/28/11.

Sometimes a play is more about the feel and form than the meaning. Such was the case with Steppenwolf’s restaging of The Hot L Baltimore. The play, written in 1973 by Lanford Wilson, features drifters, wayward souls, prostitutes, and ghosts in a fleabag hotel that has seen better days.

Allison Torem and Jon Michael Hill in The Hot L Baltimore, Steppenwolf. Photograph: Michael Brosilow.

Like the hotel, scheduled for demolition, the characters are all on the edge of disaster. But there’s a love in the play, and it comes from the rhythm of life forged at the margins of society. The Hot L Baltimore was almost a musical in that it emphasized crescendos, explosions, and relaxations of dialogue as noise rather than as meaningful communication. Actors interrupted and overlapped each other’s lines. Music roared forth or faded into the background. There was a feeling of accelerating down a steep hill, unable to stop the momentum, or the sensation in the play that the wrecking ball had swung back and was headed screaming right for the set. All one could do was listen, feel, and brace for the vibrations of impact.


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