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Beat the wrecking ball to ‘The Hot l Baltimore’

Updated: 
April 18, 2014 - 12:05am

What do a Southern belle, three hookers, a grumpy curmudgeon and an unstable brother and sister all have in common? They’re all residents of a seedy, rent-by-the-week hotel in downtown Baltimore. Lanford Wilson’s critically acclaimed dramatic comedy is set in the lobby of the Hotel Baltimore, and focuses on its residents who are faced with eviction when the decaying property is condemned. A tale of lost souls caught up in urban decay, “The Hot l Baltimore” comes to the stage Friday at The Aloha Theatre in Kainaliu, and runs through May 4.

Directed by Dick Hershberger, the play focuses on the daily lives of tenants at the once swanky Hotel Baltimore. Facing eviction so the deteriorating hotel can be demolished, the residents begin to draw parallels between their lives and the life of the hotel — once grand and polished, but now falling to pieces.

“Many of the themes from the play are still relevant today,” said Hershberger. “People in transit in their lives. People in turmoil in their lives. Public facilities that are closing and being torn down in favor of some new venue. The constant change of the infrastructure is ongoing in America and it’s probably something that won’t ever change. Change is the only thing that’s constant. Nothing is forever.”

“The Hot l Baltimore” is set in the early ’70s in the lobby of a dilapidated hotel, from which the “e” in the hotel sign is missing. The residents however, are anything but faded. Unique in their own right, they all share the experience of having found an unconventional home on the fringes of society. Ranging from young to old, reserved to eccentric, they convene in the lobby on the eve of the hotel’s impending demolition to discuss their lives.

Each resident has his own demons, but one in particular unites them all. Girl (Tiffany Kutsunai) is a 19-year-old prostitute who has been around every block in town. Spirited and exhausting, her compelling role is instrumental to the production with her awkward outbursts over things such as the arrival and departure of the trains. “I have a sense of innocence,” said Kutsunai. “It’s not something my character wants to do for a living, it’s just something she needs to do to stay away from home.”

When faced with the reality of losing their home, differences become less significant and a makeshift family develops as the characters continue to face each day unapologetically and with optimism, despite their less than ideal environment. Filled with humanity and poignancy, “The Hot L Baltimore” reveals the private lives of an unconventional community about to be turned inside out.

Victor Lugo plays Bill, the night desk clerk. “I’m kind of an anchor,” Lugo said. “I’m a father figure to Girl. I’m bothered by what she does, but I like her as a person. No matter what you’re doing, people still have relationships and bonds regardless of their social class or what they do in life. We’re kind of a family. A family can consist of just about anything.”

Debuting in February 1973, “The Hot l Baltimore” successfully transferred to Broadway for a three-year run. The play was sold to ABC and adapted as a situation comedy that ran for one season in 1975.

“I read everything that Lanford Wilson wrote and this play really stuck out,” said Hershberger. “It’s incredibly well written. There are some marvelous characters that you just don’t find outside of Lanford Wilson’s stuff.”

The cast of supporting characters entice the audience into caring about their situation; even Mr. Morse (Dan Hoff), the crotchety old know-it-all who spends his days complaining about everyone and everything. The two other resident prostitutes, April (Robin O’Hare) and Suzy (Cameron Bailey-Bram) add their comedic touch with their sassy, tactless grit. And the charming Millie (Linda Flournoy) is a lovable Southern grandmother with a voice like molasses.

Other cast and crew members include, Paula Cornwell, Martin Dwyer, Ernie Gianotti, Bob Haber, Sage Hecht, Felicity Johnson, Mark Murdock and Renee Monell. Producers, Arlene Araki and Tiffany Kutsunai; set designer, Gerald Lucena; lighting designer, boB Gage; costumer, Carol Conner; hair and makeup, Yoshimi Jenkins; technical director, Gill Peccu.

The show features brief female nudity and therefore is recommended for mature adult audiences. Friday and Saturday shows begin at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday matinees begin at 2:30. Reserved seating tickets are $20 for adults; $17 for those 65 and older and young adults, 18 to 25; $10 for children 4 to 17.

Tickets are available by calling 322-9924, at the door one hour before showtime, or online at apachawaii.org. Beat the wrecking ball down to the Aloha Theatre and catch this cast of lovable misfits from “The Hot l Baltimore.” You may not want to live there, but it’s certainly worth a visit.