KPBS AIRDATE: January 26, 1994 >
Kenneth Hoyle spends a lot of time in hotels. It’s part of his job, as an international corporate exec, shuttling among Third World countries, pushing The Product, a questionable baby food, and advancing to the stature of company hatchet man. He used to be a gentler, kinder guy. He started out in the Peace Corps, a nice Jewish boy named Hirshkovitz. Somewhere along the way, he got lost. As he huffed and puffed up the corporate ladder, clawing toward that rarefied air up top, he left his early life, his wife, his son and his humanity behind. Nattily dressed, morally bankrupt, he’s a rich, lost, empty shell. A kind of symbol of Eighties America.
“Three Hotels” is a simple, often stirring, bare-bones piece that takes place in three virtually interchangeable hotel rooms in three possibly interchangeable Third World countries. Barely ninety minutes in length, the play comprises three monologues — Hoyle in scenes one and three, his wife sandwiched in between.
Thirty-two year-old playwright Jon Robin Baitz knows of what he speaks. His father was not only a corporate executive, but he actually worked international markets for the Carnation company. It all seems very real and painfully close to home.
In the riveting monologues, we get a feel for the brutality of this world. At first, Hoyle is on top, the drinking, swaggering, cigar-smoking smoothie whose verbal blows are swift, clean and bloodless, when he has to rid the company of its dead wood. He knows all the rules of the corporate game; he attends to them assiduously, and loses his soul in the bargain. His marriage is in a shambles, his son has been murdered, and his wife, asked to address the young corporate spouses, gradually unravels, cheerfully, sadly, vindictively telling all, the truth about the company, the product, her life, and what she has watched her husband become.
In the third scene, he’s alone, having lost everything. More subdued, sadder, maybe wiser, still a bit delusional. Dictating into a tape recorder a letter to his mother, also a victim of her age. She’s in a nursing home in Detroit, her brain deteriorating in a very literal sense, as she reverts to the Yiddish of her childhood, just as her son reclaims his heritage and in the final aching moments, sings a mournful rendition of “Rozhinkes Mit Mandlen,” an old Yiddish lullaby.
Director Todd Salovey has kept the environment simple and unadorned, wrapping the whole in melancholy violin solos which recall other Jews and other sorrows. His casting of real-life husband-and-wife Doug Jacobs and Darla Cash was a great idea that almost works. Jacobs plays Hoyle’s final sense of grief, loss and emptiness with aplomb, but he’s not slick enough or tough enough in the first scene to have believably made it as far as he has in the vicious corporate shark pool. Cash has her role down pat. She is cool, controlled, smiling, resentful and a little ruthless. Lovely, layered performance.
They don’t get to play off each other, but we can only imagine. And what we don’t see on this stage is as vivid as what we do. “Three Hotels” tells an unsettling story, in a production that is subtle yet highly charged, and highly worth seeing.
I’m Pat Launer, for KPBS radio.
©1994 Patté Productions Inc.