Directed by – Mark-Brian Sonna
Set Design and Props – Alejandro de la Costa
Lighting Design and Costumes – Mark-Brian Sonna
Sound Design – Bretton B. Holmes
Stage Manager – Penny Johnson
A. Solomon Abah, Jr. – Salam
Gerald Taylor II – Habib
Summer Martinez – The Young Virgin
Mark-Brian Sonna – Mo, the Manager
Barbara McIntyre – The Old Virgin
Bretton B. Holmes – The Television Voice
Reviewed Performance 4/3/2015
Reviewed by Carol M. Rice, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Hotel California is a play I’ve had my eye on for some time. I was fortunate enough to direct the staged reading as a part of MBS Productions’ 7 Plays in 7 Days in 2011, and despite the fact that MBS’ Founder and Artistic Director Mark-Brian Sonna felt it needed more rewrites, I quite honestly liked the play as it was when I first read it in 2009.
Playwright Bretton B. Holmes resisted changing his script initially, but after sending it out and being rejected a few too many times, he decided to workshop it and get some additional feedback. After another staged reading in Los Angeles earlier this year and getting some more feedback, Mr. Holmes bit the bullet and edited his script. Mr. Sonna was happy, and it made it onto MBS Productions’ season.
The set by Alejandro de la Costa is perfect as a grungy, run-down hotel room. The ugly bedspread in particular was one I think I saw in several hotel rooms on family trips in my youth, and the ancient TV in the corner was an excellent touch. Mr. Sonna’s costumes complemented the set and characters, and Mr. Holmes’ audio, particularly the Mickey Mouse cartoons, was nicely done.
Described by MBS as “a politically offensive comedy,” Hotel California is about two Muslim terrorists who wake up in a shady hotel room across the street from Disneyland, not knowing how they got there. They find a note telling them to wait for further instructions and immediately determine they must be there to blow up “the rat.”
Terrorists Salam and Habib are played by A. Solomon Abah, Jr. and Gerald Taylor II, respectively. Habib is a more physical role than Salam, as well as being more fanatical, and Taylor does a nice job. His wide-eyed, zealous facial expressions and over-enunciated accent are excellent, and he handles the fight choreography with grace.
Abah was not as convincing as the other terrorist, Salam. He didn’t get into the role physically like Taylor did, and his accent slipped in and out. His articulation needed some work, too, as he was often mush-mouthed in his delivery and was sometimes hard to understand.
These two actors are alone onstage the majority of the play, and they seemed to lack chemistry, causing the pace to be slow. The characters are supposed to be relative strangers at the beginning, but they didn’t grow together as the play went on. Consequently, it was hard to care about their plight.
One might question my wanting to sympathize with the plight of terrorists who want to blow up Disneyland, but in the long run, they are sympathetic characters. I don’t want reveal any spoilers, though, so I’ll just leave it at that.
Director Mark-Brian Sonna had to take the stage unexpectedly as Mo, the Manager. John A. Parker, who was to play that role, had to bow out just before opening due to personal reasons. The performance I saw was Mr. Sonna’s sixth time to go all the way through the role with the cast, including rehearsals and performances. While not a particularly large part, Mo is a pivotal role and Mr. Sonna fills his shoes as well as he can in the circumstances.
The other two characters in Hotel California are The Young Virgin, played by Summer Martinez, and The Old Virgin, played by Barbara McIntyre. Both of these parts have been expanded from the original version of Hotel California, and that of The Young Virgin succeeds very well. Clad in a classic “sexy maid costume,” Ms. Martinez plays the room service maid with a tongue-in-cheek, cute sexuality that is very effective. She obviously has lots of fun with it, which is part of what makes it work. We don’t, however, know she’s a virgin other than the fact that the program tells us she is. In the earlier version of the play, it was very clear. As with the prior version, I wish we had seen more of this character as played by Ms. Martinez.
Unfortunately the expanded role of The Old Virgin does not work. One of the primary jokes of the piece is that these two terrorists are expecting to martyr themselves in death so they can get their 72 virgins. Instead, due to a “translation error,” they get a 72-year-old virgin. Ms. McIntyre is all in, with a sexy maid costume of her own that you have to see to believe, and does a hilarious, fearless job. As a “virgin,” however, the character is WAY too knowledgeable about all things sex related, complete with providing a dildo for some of the positions she describes. She also mentions some other men she tried something adventurous with, so wouldn’t that make her NOT a virgin at this point?
And this is where it all falls apart. The substitution of the old virgin for the young one should be one of the main jokes of the piece (other than the very end, which, again, I won’t spoil for you) but instead it’s become a scene to shock – both the terrorists and the audience. Most of the antics of The Old Virgin came out of nowhere and consequently seemed almost like they were from a different play altogether. While I thoroughly enjoyed Ms. McIntyre, as she is an excellent comic actress, the play got back on track once her character exited.
Mr. Sonna’s program notes indicate that the play had been tightened up and shortened after the Los Angeles reading, but I felt like it was missing some of the best lines, and I remember many things working better before the rewrites. The end of the play is still very strong (and VERY funny!), but getting there was not as easy as it should have been. It’s still a fun way to spend an evening at the theatre, and I highly recommend you coming out to see it for yourself.
MBS Productions has a brave mission, in that they only present world premieres or reprises of past MBS shows. With the dearth of new works being presented both locally and nationally, Mr. Sonna is to be commended for his commitment to this mission. New plays are not an easy sell, and oftentimes, despite all the work that goes into preparing for that world premiere, still more work is needed once they’ve been in front of an audience. I really hope that Mr. Holmes keeps working on this one, because it’s a keeper.
performing at the Stone Cottage Theatre
15650 Addison Road (facing Addison Circle Drive)
Addison, TX 75001
Runs through April 19
Actual days: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm
Additional shows on Wednesday, April 8 at 8:00 pm and Sunday, April 19 at 2:00 pm
Tickets are $20-29
For information and to purchase tickets, go to www.mbsproductions.net or call the box office at 214-477-4942