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This article by Joan Crespi was prepared for the August 7, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Drama Review: `Hotel d’Amour’

For fun, farce, and out-loud laughter — there’s

enjoyment to be had at Hopewell’s Off-Broadstreet Theater where the

musical "Hotel d’Amour" is playing weekends until Saturday,

August 24. High on entertainment value, light on intellectual content,

this is ideal summer fare.

The musical, performed with a live, four-piece orchestra, is based

on that truly funny 1907 farce, "A Flea in Her Ear" by French

(O la-la) dramatist Georges Feydeau. The book and translation is by

Jack Helbig, the music and lyrics by Gregg Opelka, a Chicago team.

The musical, already highly successful in the Midwest, is here having

its East Coast premiere.

Set in Paris in the 1920s, the first and last scenes are in the Chandebise

home, the middle scene in Hotel d’ Amour, where rooms are rented by

the hour and "where boy meets girl or boy meets boy." And

where "they know your face but not your name." This is also

where "the elite meet to be indiscreet." Dale Simon’s one-piece

set of home parlor and hotel desk, room, and hall works handily to

solve many of the script’s logistical challenges.

Feydeau, of course, penned his story in pre-Viagra days. So is a musical

based on his story of impotence out of date? Or is it really based

on love, sexual and more? Under Robert Thick’s skilled, fast-paced

direction, funny lines begin to pop early. When a doctor (Tom Chiola),

to whom an embarrassed Victor (Tom Orr) obliquely confesses his malady,

tries to take Victor’s pulse, Victor cries "Don’t touch me!"

The doctor’s advice to Victor: "Take a mistress."

Impotence is only the point of departure, yet this is why Raymonde

Chandebise (Suzanne Houston) thinks her husband Victor is having an

affair. She offers for proof the provocative red suspenders she bought

him that have arrived back in the mail.

To trap her husband, Raymonde asks her friend Lucienne (Marieke Georgiadis)

to write an admiring letter to Victor (on scented purple stationery).

Were she to write it herself, Victor would recognize her handwriting.

In the letter a secret admirer offers to meet Victor late that afternoon

at the Hotel d’Amour.

The two comely leading ladies, tastefully costumed (by Ann Raymond)

in shimmering 1920s dresses, play delightfully together like old-timers,

but while the lovely, wholesome, glowing Houston is an Off-Broadstreet

regular, the smart, sophisticated Georgiadis is a newcomer to OBT.

Victor persuades his friend and his top insurance salesman, Romain

Tournel, a womanizer, (well played by the red-vested Steven J. Murin

Jr.) to keep the appointment for him, although he wants to keep the

letter. He hasn’t ever received one before. Alas.

Also in the first scene is Camille (James K. Perri) whose speech impediment

(he has a cleft palate) confounds the others. Suddenly he finds his

palate on the shelf and speaks clearly. Dashing on an off stage, he’s

there purely for laughs

There’s more language play later. Lucienne’s husband, the hot-blooded,

gun-brandishing Spaniard, Carlos Homenides de Histangua (wonderfully

played by Jeff Perrine), also (apparently) doesn’t understand what

is being said. When Lucienne rattles off Spanish to him like a native,

he asks in English, "Is this true?"

At the hotel, which everybody, including Antoinette, the maid, (Nicole

Krai) visits, anything resembling a plot is all but forgotten, or

too fast and farcical to follow. The hotel scene, with its five new

characters (for a total of 14) is replete with the several characters

slamming the several room doors as they dart in and out of rooms (let

the mayhem begin). Add mistaken identity: the well-mannered, conventional

Victor and the half-buttoned, drunken bellboy Poche (both well played

by Tom Orr).

Add a revolving bed (complete with a colorful, unkempt

bum for decoy). Add unrealized affairs, as when Tournel, who has escorted

Raymonde to the hotel, hoping to have an affair with her, finds her

unwilling. Meanwhile, adding to the fun, a laschivious old lech, Rugby

(a vigorous Robert Thick), is making out (offstage in his room) with

any woman handy.

The songs are tuneful if unremarkable, the choreography (by Julia

Thick) quick and stylish, and virtually all of the singers have fine,

clear voices. Largely, the songs underscore the action rather than

move it forward. Outstanding is Carlos’ "Shoot First" (he

finds the inviting letter and recognizes his wife’s handwriting).

Sung in fine voice, with his brandishing his gun, it’s hilarious,

and his duet with his wife is excellent. But it’s not the one song

that moves the action forward and resolves the play.

Camille, his palate found and reinserted, realizes that there are

two Victors. One, Poche, mistaken for Victor, crazed, drugged, is

upstairs asleep, wearing Victor’s bathrobe. The real Victor, putting

on his suit jacket, reflects that his look-alike Poche, has had more

fun. He sheds his jacket and puts on Poche’s green bellboy’s jacket.

Meaning now to be mistaken for Poche, he asks his, i.e.Victor’s, wife,

Raymonde, "What do you see in him?"

Houston beautifully sings the show’s one memorable song, "He Sells

Insurance." "He’s unremarkable. He loves me. He sells insurance."

This is not only sexual love but more profound. Victor sheds a tear.

Raymonde recognizes him. Victor reveals his true self, realizing "I’ve

got a mistress who is also my wife." He promises her a night without

impotence.

How suddenly, miraculously, is his forgotten impotence cured? Raymonde

has changed not a whit. But forego analysis. Laugh. Enjoy.

— Joan Crespi

Hotel d’Amour, Off-Broadstreet Theater, 5 South

Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell, 609-466-2766. Madcap musical comedy. $22.50

& $24. Through Saturday, August 24.


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