nytheatre.com review by Frank Anthony Polito
March 9, 2007
"Six Characters in Search of an Oracle."
Not too original, I know. But after seeing Bixby Elliot's Hotel Oracle presented by The Sum of Us Theatre Company, the more I think about this play, it's the best way to describe it. Okay, that's not true. Let me think...
How about "Six of the Most Talented Actors Working in Off-Off-Broadway Theatre Tackle a Beautifully Designed Drama Written by a Talented Playwright with Flawless Direction on a Really Cool Set?" But seriously...
Hotel Oracle is provocative play. Or maybe that's not the right word. After consulting dictionary.com I discovered it means "tending or serving to provoke; inciting, stimulating, irritating, or vexing." Which isn't quite what I meant. Though maybe I did...
I am a little irritated and vexed after seeing it. In this day and age of the "Theatre is not TV" mentality, I get a little frustrated when I see a play that I have a difficult time following. I prefer to know a) what's going on, b) who's making it happen and c) why. There were indeed times during Hotel Oracle that I had no idea how to answer any of these questions. But it's okay...
Because I'll compare Hotel Oracle to one of my favorite TV shows—The Twilight Zone.
Remember the episode "Five Characters in Search of An Exit?" An army major wakes up in a small circular room without windows or a door. There he finds a ballerina, a clown, a tramp, and a bagpiper—all of whom have no idea how they got there or how to get out. All the while we watch in anticipation wondering, "Who are these people?" "Why are they there?" "How's it going to end?" (In case you've forgotten, they're all dolls in a "Toys for Tots" barrel.)
This is how I felt watching "a lonely reporter, a con man, an expectant mother, a mysterious messenger, a pill popper and a kindly clerk...searching for the imponderable questions of their lives" in this "play about peregrinations & post-its" (as per the program notes.)
Playwright Elliot uses an array of styles in telling his tale, from straight up naturalistic dialogue to a more lyrical poetry. Some of the more interesting moments come when he breaks form, having five of the characters narrate the action of the sixth.
Director Stephen Brackett creates some remarkable stage pictures. In particular, the moment when all six actors pile into a small boat (a chair) and head out to sea (behind a set of blue velvet ropes), complete with high winds (from a fan.)
Praise must be given to Nicholas Vaughn's multi-leveled set. From the light-up neon "HOTEL ORACLE" sign to the five individual-yet-totally-similar hotel guest rooms and glow-in-the-dark Oracle's chamber door; there's even an entire wall covered in Post-It notes! (How long did it take Vaughn to stick all those!?)
The Sum of Us Theatre Company is the collaborative effort of former students of the Atlantic Theater Company Acting School and one I hope to see more from.