Thursday, November 20, 2014

Israel Horovitz gives the Hub five hits - and one literal bomb - in "Six Hotels"

Matthew Zahnzinger and Johnnie McQuarley trade war stories in "Speaking of Tushy".

It comes about halfway through "Six Hotels," the Hub Theatre Company's kicky compendium of six Israel Horovitz one-acts (which closes this weekend at Club Cafe) - and it seems to come from nowhere.  So far the evening's entertainment has been heavy on clever but broad situations, studded with light, if obvious, wit (mostly built around the mechanics of bad dates, chance meetings with worse exes, etc., etc.) One script is even titled "Speaking of Tushy," if that gives you any idea of how low Horovitz is willing to go for a horse laugh.

But then comes "Beirut Rocks."

And at that point either the evening totally goes to hell - or suddenly it's the most thrilling political theatre of the year. Speaking personally, I'd rate it "thrilling" - but the audience I saw it with, I must admit, looked stunned before it was over. They didn't seem able to believe what they'd just seen: a Beirut hotel room shuddering from the thunder of explosions, a wannabe Arab terrorist stripped bare, an arrogant American Jew spouting hatred, a gaggle of entitled college kids struggling to stay afloat in a rising tide of threats - the crowd looked as shell-shocked as they might have if Horovitz had dropped a literal bomb on them.

Lauren Elias enjoys Johnnie McQuarley's "room service" in "The Hotel Play."

For the record, Horovitz (who of course is Jewish) makes no anti-Israel statement here; and his Palestinian terrorist (who, ironically enough, has been raised in America) gives at least as good as she gets when it comes to hatred. Still, simply dramatizing the kind of invective that spews from the spoiled Jewish college kid in this script counts as a major breakthrough for the local theatre, and what it's brave enough to say (at least when other Jews say it) about the grisly deadlock in Gaza and the West Bank. Whoa - so much for Anne Frank! I thought as the shock wave rolled over the audience - and I wondered, given the sudden rise in critical views of Jewish characters this season, whether something larger might be afoot in the theatrical landscape. Could our local theatre ever begin to treat the ongoing crisis in the Middle East honestly - or even seriously?

One can only hope! But it's also hard not to argue in the case of "Six Hotels" that the immediate lurch back to Comedy Central (with the very next sketch!) was enough to induce whiplash in any thoughtful viewer (and could understandably read as insulting to some).  Nor does anything else in the evening reach anything like the dramatic heights of "Beirut"- although the penultimate script, "The Hotel Play," has its ruefully telling moments. 

Still, guts count for something - maybe they count for a lot; and the Hub Theatre Company certainly has guts. And smarts - the quartet of rising actors at Hub (Lauren Elias, Johnnie McQuarley, Ashley Risteen,  and Matthew Zahnzinger) all display impressive comic chops (under the tight direction of Daniel Borque and John Geoffrion) - even when their youth or type (I know, "type"!) makes them perhaps not entirely convincing in a particular role; you end up admiring their moxie even if you don't quite buy them as jaded adulterers or half-hearted rentboys, for instance. It's Ashley Risteen, however, who breaks from the talented pack and I'd say qualifies as the "find" of the production; she's utterly believable as both a Palestinian killer and a Brooklyn gal trying to do a Boston accent - about as wide a stretch as any actress may have ever been asked to make!

As for Horovitz - he's well served by Hub, even when he seems to be off-handedly playing with fire just for shits and giggles.  To be honest, none of these scripts (not even the brutal "Beirut Rocks") is for the history books.  But they all pulse with this playwright's distinctive energy; indeed, Horovitz seems able to toss off a fierce little play as easily as a song. I only wish he'd ponder one of his melodies long enough to give us a full symphony.

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