If youíre going to do live theater, for Godís sake do it where the audience can get a drink. Thatís my feeling, and Iím glad itís shared by the members of the Shadowbox Collective, a Boston performance group, who chose the Middle East Downstairs as the venue a week ago last Wednesday for the premiere of their fine Hotel Blanc.
Stereo loop-de-loops from Esquivel accompany a prologue in which a maid cleans a hotel room. Later weíll know her as Eva, the pivotal figure in a multigenerational drama that collapses Nazi Germany and the American Midwest of the 1970s into dream-hotel space. Invisible and inaudible to each other, characters from different eras haunt the set simultaneously.
The broken chronology isnít hard to reconstruct. Early in the show, a just-married couple arrive at their room in "the best hotel in Munich." Telescoping time brings them a little Eva ("born," to the horror of her mother, by emerging swaddled from under a bed sheet), but her father has already been claimed by the Holocaust. Years later, Eva makes love with a sadistic GI and gives birth to a boy, who, as an adult, starts a lonely career as a soap salesman.
Director Amanda Palmer superimposes the charactersí parallel universes into piercing, compulsive tableaux. One bit involving a winding piece of fabric is so good, it should be a performance piece in itself. As Eva, Claire Elizabeth Davies (who also designed the set) gives the fullest, most imaginative performance, nailing the varied moods of the collaboratively written script.
In the program notes, Palmer says the company wondered during rehearsals whether the play would be understandable. The truth is that itís too explicit and not explicit enough. Iím not saying you canít do a play in which a Holocaust victimís grandson carries a briefcase full of soap bars, but I will say that if you choose to do this, you have to do more with the idea than wave it around like a flag and hope people will find it "interesting." The production is strong visually. The actors also appear in films that are projected over the bed, and the disturbing interplay between their on-screen images and their live performance generates a tension that saves the dream-play from becoming too precious.
The program notes say that Hotel Blanc is based on songs by the British goth-psychedelic-pop group the Legendary Pink Dots, but devotion to the band is not a prerequisite for enjoying the show.
Hotel Blanc has one remaining performance, on Thursday, February 28, at MITís Kresge Little Theater, 48 Mass Ave, in Cambridge, at 8 p.m. Call (617) 253-7692.