Live at the Motel 6/Manson: Fires in Your Cities | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Live at the Motel 6/Manson: Fires in Your Cities 

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LIVE AT THE MOTEL 6

Stonefinger and Lower Links

MANSON: FIRES IN YOUR CITIES

TheatreBAM

at Cafe Voltaire

Peter Goldfinger's Live at the Motel 6 is based on the interesting, if gimmicky, premise of telling three mostly unrelated stories, all set on the same evening in adjacent rooms of a budget motel outside Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, having come up with this clever premise--which bears a striking resemblance to Jim Jarmusch's 1989 movie Mystery Train (three unrelated stories set in and around a seedy Memphis hotel)--Goldfinger doesn't seem to know how to turn it to his advantage.

Instead of using it to more fully explore his setting, comment on the subjectivity of perception, or make observations about story telling in his chosen medium--issues explored in Mystery Train--Goldfinger has followed the lead of The Love Boat and Fantasy Island, hoping an "exotic" setting will magically provide a reason for slapping together three rather feeble tales.

Part of the problem is that Goldfinger's stories have more or less the same structure. Each is told in two scenes. In each first scene we meet two characters--a wannabe actress and her boyfriend, a wannabe semipro football player and a fellow player, a wannabe Moose Lodge president and his brother--one of whom is nervous about the outcome of some upcoming competition: an acting tournament, an announcement of who made a semipro team, an election at the lodge. The two characters talk, fight, joke around, and generally make the big question of the scene--Will the wish be granted?--painfully obvious.

In the second scenes the question is dutifully answered. Some get what they hoped for, some don't. And if they don't, the emotional fallout is quickly worked through. Goldfinger never closes a door without opening a window.

Not that I think the playwright is to blame for all of this production's flaws. In attempting to re-create the look and feel of a Motel 6 room, director Ron Livingston only emphasizes the script's predictability. Between scenes the actors spend a good two minutes moving props and furniture around the tiny stage at Lower Links, only to reveal essentially the same motel room: a chair here instead of there, a door there instead of here, a different painting over the bed.

In his casting Livingston twice pairs a fairly good Equity actor playing the character who needs to win something with a less capable non-Equity actor. In the first story Kara Zediker (Equity) as the nervous actress acts circles around Peter Goldfinger (not), who despite a likable stage presence doesn't always know how to best deliver his own lines. In the second story David DeCastro (Equity) virtually carries the scene as he describes in excruciating detail how much he wants to play professional football, while Jamie Woodson goes along for the ride.

This pattern is broken only in the third--and silliest--story, about a middle-aged man who has staked his happiness on becoming the Big Moose. Both actors in this scene--Rich Komenich (Equity) and Guy Washburn (not)--so successfully brought their characters to life that I found myself worrying whether Washburn would win. The rest of the time I merely wondered whether this writing exercise disguised as a play would ever end.

Peter Goldfinger could learn a few things from Kyle Hall, whose one-man show Manson: Fires in Your Cities cobbles together Charles Manson's often repetitious rants to create a fascinating, truly disquieting hour-long show. Sitting in the half-light of the Cafe Voltaire basement, his head shaved, a swastika carved into his forehead, his eyes dark with rage--the look Manson affected when he was convicted of masterminding the Tate-LaBianca murders--Hall seems possessed by Manson's dark spirit.

For 60 minutes Hall shows us the contradictory, disturbed soul of the man Manson Family member "Squeaky" Fromme said "seemed to change every time I saw him." One minute Hall's Manson seems kind and peace loving--"It makes me mad when you kill your snakes, your dogs, your cats"--and you can see why he attracted so many lost souls. The next minute he spews so much venom you feel you're in the presence of pure evil.

Most of the time, however, Hall presents a Manson who's rambling and a bit crazed, but also filled with an outsider's rage and insight into the flaws of our culture. At times he even sounds like Lenny Bruce, especially when he spits out lines like "You are afraid of the truth" and "You're persecuting what you can't stand to look at in yourselves." Hall encourages this parallel by quoting in the program something Bruce blurted out during one of his obscenity trials: "You need the deviant. . . . You need that mad man to stand up and tell you where you're blowing it."

Whenever Hall's Manson gets too wise or cuddly Hall rips the mask off to reveal the madman beneath. He quotes Manson's Bruce-like quip "Every time Jesus Christ comes, you give him shit," and once the laughter subsides--and the audience the night I attended laughed loud and long--he adds the second half of Manson's line: "He came back in the 30s in Germany and you're still crying about it." I've never seen an audience turn so quickly from charmed amusement to appalled silence.

Hall's performance is filled with these chilling masterstrokes that deftly reveal how much more to the man there is than the media's "hippie cult leader" or Manson's own pathetic assessment: "I am what you have made of me and the mad dog devil killer fiend leper is a reflection of your society."

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