The Hot L Baltimore is a run-down hotel due to close in a month. Set in the hotel lobby, the play surrounds 12 characters’ lives as they worry over a multitude of problems – prostitution, lost grandfathers and noise complaints. Earlier this month, the UNC School of Theatre Arts & Dance immersed the audience in 1970’s Baltimore.
While typical theaters put the audience in a place as though they were home watching T.V., with the chairs facing the elevated stage, the Hot L Baltimore lobby sat in the center of the room with the audience elevated around it.
A sense of people-watching accompanied the observers as they caught a glimpse into the characters’ lives. The actors embodied their characters and moved along around each other, and as two argued and threw chess board pieces to the ground, another three spoke of money problems. The audience’s focus shifted seamlessly as voices grew louder or conflict arose, but the details around the main event were not as easy to spot. Smaller scenes amongst the others went almost unnoticed unless observers took their eyes off the central issue.
There were no ‘actors’ in this performance – the audience saw only characters, each with their own unique stories and traits. One character, simply known as The Girl, an airy yet intelligent nineteen-year-old prostitute – her occupation somewhat hidden from the audience – frets over the closing of the hotel; her naivete rubs the other older prostitutes, April and Suzy, the wrong way. April, a sensual and realistic woman, sees the world as it is, her feet planted firmly on the ground. Jackie and Jamie are the siblings of the show – Jackie, the older sister, is a hustler and a schemer, manipulative of her younger brother Jamie, who is somewhat slow and meek.
The night clerk Bill is intolerant of the residents’ antics, and attempts to restore order in the lobby when things get too heated. He does, however, have a soft spot for The Girl and is liked by the long-time tenants. A college student, Paul Granger III comes to the hotel in search for his grandfather who once lived there and The Girl volunteers herself to help him search. When he is unsure of his grandfather’s state, the eccentric Millie, an older woman, reassures him to have faith.
Like real life or a sitcom on television, there was no reason for the characters to band together and save the day – instead, each individual had a story line and a reason for the audience’s attention to be held.
Though “The Hot L Baltimore” and “The Crucible” have passed, the theatre department pushes on, with more student-run shows in the last few weeks of the semester.