The Hot L Baltimore/Empty Bottles, Broken Hearts | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Hot L Baltimore/Empty Bottles, Broken Hearts 

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The Hot L Baltimore, Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company, and Empty Bottles, Broken Hearts, Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company. Thanks to director David Cromer and an unimprovable ensemble, it's difficult to imagine a more authentic world than Lanford Wilson's transient hotel, complete with rusty water, fickle heat, and fluorescent-lit ambience. A time warp in every grungy detail, Robert G. Smith's battered lobby fuses with Joseph Fosco's period sound design and Sarah Pace's archaeologically accurate costumes to immerse audiences in the world of a dozen hard-boiled residents facing eviction on Memorial Day 1973.

This three-ring fleabag, once an art deco landmark, teems with survival stories woven into an oral tapestry that ranges from overlapping cacophonies to silent patches of truth. Wilson never condescends to his 15 semisympathetic underdogs. And though even the cameo players nail their parts, the most awesome honesty comes from Corryn Cummins as a full-time seeker whose curiosity connects everyone she meets, Patricia Donegan as a veteran who's earned her contentment, Khanisha Foster as a dreamer headed for disappointment, and Jen Engstrom and Lisa Rothschiller as diametrically different hookers.

Playing Mondays and Tuesdays on the same sprawling set is Lance Eliot Adams's hour-long slice of life, another ensemble drama showing characters in flux. In a "shitty neighborhood bar," a dozen Chicagoans chug beers and stumble into sexual encounters. Occasionally connecting, the older souses burst into poetic soliloquies about love gone wrong while the younger denizens muddle through assorted soap-operatic affairs. Sodden spin-offs of Eugene O'Neill's barflies, these characters sport the usual pipe dreams and one-way fates.

Rich Cotovsky is as much traffic cop as director, trying to make the script's random encounters, fragmentary dialogue, and derivative plot amount to something. Claudia Garrison and Leonard Kraft wax maudlin as the old customers, and Justus Woolever is repellently believable as a sexist thug--his manipulation of a sensitive companion comes right out of Sexual Perversity in Chicago. This is more episodic flow than plotted show, but the sheer disconnectedness of these pub crawlers makes a cunning contrast to the warmhearted solidarity of the tenants at the Hot L Baltimore.

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