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THEATER REVIEW : Corporate Exec Pays High Price for Success in 'Hotels'


The price of the American dream is a Faustian nightmare in Jon Robin Baitz's "Three Hotels."

Success at the top of the corporate ladder can come at the cost of losing one's soul.

The 1991 play's exquisitely realized West Coast premiere staging at San Diego Repertory Theatre's Lyceum Space fingers those for whom profits justify the means.

Baitz's simple story, told in three alternating monologues in three hotels by a corporate executive and his wife, puts a human face on a very specific crime--the strategy of selling baby formula to mothers in developing countries. The women, ignorant of how to use the formula, unwittingly kill their babies by mixing it with undrinkable water or diluting the stuff too much.

But the crime fits many others--those who defend the sale of guns or who glamorize cigarettes, and downtown redevelopers who justify razing low-income housing because they can make more bucks building expensive boutiques.

The play, astonishing in its maturity for the 32-year-old Baitz (who has said he modeled the couple on his own parents), is a cross between "Death of a Salesman" and "Glengarry Glen Ross." Kenneth Hoyle, drawn with intense, restless intelligence by Rep artistic director Douglas Jacobs, has Willy Loman's desire to please coupled with the cutthroat nature of Mamet's men.


But Hoyle is dragged down because he has a burden he can't shake--a conscience--personified by his love for his wife, played with graceful despair by Jacobs' real-life wife, Darla Cash. And when his wife gives up on the onetime Peace Corps activist she married, in the form of baring her feelings in a speech before the corporate wives, he loses everything.

Because Baitz's point of view in this 75-minute play is so crashingly clear, the show runs the risk of making its points with big dull thuds. Director Todd Salovey wisely keeps it fluid and moving, emphasizing the humanity, the anguish and the growing emptiness of the Hoyles at every irresistible turn. It soon becomes clear why the piece is told in monologue form--this couple can no longer communicate directly. Violin solos by Myla Wingard (who will alternate with Karen Elaine) precede and punctuate the monologues, complementing the musical inevitability of the couple's quiet, inexorable tragedy.

Neil Patel's spare scenic design sets off the tale elegantly on a black marbled thrust stage with sand suggesting a beach in front of it. Under Brenda Berry's suggestive lighting, candles flicker through a scrim like the souls of the dead. Judy Watson's well-chosen costumes fit to perfection.

"Three Hotels" premiered on PBS in 1991, and was seen Off Broadway last year, but this staging deserves to be seen too.

* "Three Hotels," Lyceum Space, 79 Horton Plaza, San Diego. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 and 7 p.m., Wednesday, 2 p.m. Ends Feb. 12. $18-$24. 235-8025. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.

Douglas Jacobs: Kenneth Hoyle

Darla Cash: Barbara Hoyle

A San Diego Repertory Theatre. By Jon Robin Baitz. Directed by Todd Neil Patel. Costumes: Judy Watson. Lighting: Brenda Berry. Stage manager: Andy Tighe.

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