Beowulf Alley Theatre Company
Last chance to check in and check out 'Three Hotels'
Fine acting overcomes structural deficiencies in mature tale of innocence lost
“Three Hotels” is a love story of sorts.
In its final weekend at Beowulf Alley Theatre, this show is worth catching for the fine acting by its two skilled thespians, Roberto Guajardo and Susan Arnold.
The play, by Jon Robin Baitz, tells the story of Kenneth and Barbara Hoyle, two idealistic former Peace Corp volunteers, now older but not necessarily wiser. They have fallen out of love because of the physical and emotional distance generated by Ken’s globe-hopping job as an executive for a multinational corporation.
When we meet them, Kenneth is nearing the pinnacle of his career, having sacrificed his home life and more, to relentlessly climb the corporate ladder. Barbara is bitter that the man she loved has been transformed into the kind of unfeeling monster who can callously sell baby formula throughout the Third World, oblivious to its disastrous impact on those poverty-morassed cultures.
Complicating their relationship is the loss of their son a number of years ago, due to their own ignorance about the foreign culture into which they were embedded.
Two actors at the top of their game
Guajardo gives a shrewd, artful performance as a man who is only mildly bothered at being comfortably numb. Guajardo is well known locally, performing not only at Beowulf, but also Arizona Theatre Company, the Invisible Theatre and Borderlands Theatre.
Ken justifies his transgressions as simply playing the game smart, and Guajardo lets us feel that in his heart of hearts, he knows he’s lying. However much he may deny it, Ken has grown insensitive to pain, both in others and himself. Worse, he has become complacent to Barbara’s unfettered grief. Guajardo’s focused portrayal of a man isolated from all that he once cared about is subtle and engaging.
Arnold gives an equally compelling performance, though her character’s arc is not as broad as Ken’s. Arnold is also well-known and respected in local theatre circles for both her acting and directing. Most recently, she directed Beowulf’s outstanding production of “Glengarry Glen Ross.”
Arnold’s Barbara is so unmoored that she isn’t even aware that she’s long past her breaking point and is, in fact, very, very broken. Her barely controlled seething anger and cognitive dysfunction, as she burns Ken’s career to the ground, is palpable. Arnold’s twitchy self-righteousness as she goes all scorched earth on her husband’s future is both chilling and compelling.
“Three Hotels” suffers from a serious problem with its structure. The play is set out in three acts, each in a different motel room which, ironically, is exactly the same each time.
Unfortunately, each act is pure monologue, first by Ken, then by Barbara, and finally, by Ken again. With lesser talents, this would reduce the actors to talking heads, though Guarjardo and Arnold, under the direction of Beowulf executive director Michael Fenlason, fight mightily against this, mostly with success.
In any case, we are denied seeing Ken and Barbara actually interact, each instead having to carry the audience along through an extended one-sided exposition. While a valid artistic decision on the part of Baitz, it leaves us wanting desperately to see the two characters together, confronting each other, rather than describing things to the audience.
The other structural problem is that these extended monologues limit the narrative to a recounting of actions that have already occurred offstage, at another time or place. While the narrative tale itself is rich, covering corporate power struggles, starving babies, and testimony to the United Nations, in addition to the sad husband-and-wife drama, the format of lengthy solo speeches sans any interaction, limits our internalization of the play’s truth, and ultimately, tests our patience.
Baitz, whose own father worked for international baby formula purveyor Carnation, lays out an interesting story of greed, both personal and corporate, and its soul-crushing costs. That he chose to confine his actors in their respective rooms alone is an unfortunate decision that makes the play more difficult than it might have been. Fortunately, Beowulf has two very fine actors at the top of their game and that is what brings the play home, drawing us sympathetically into the sad, bitter lives of Ken and Barbara.