Please, No Formal You


02_Hotel Colors

“Hotel Colors” is set in a hostel outside Rome where all the guests speak Italian, and the dialogs are Google Translate originals. Photo: The Bushwick Starr

The Hotel Colors is a symphony in shabby traveler décor, where no idiom is too literal and no cliché too tired to wring out a little recognition and enjoyment. To add one of our own: Eliza Bent’s play, directed by Anna Brenner and playing Wednesdays through Saturdays at the Bushwick Starr through June 1, is as well-worn, comfortable and smelly as an old sneaker, with just that touch of discomfort that a flapping sole or missing heel can add.

All the action takes place in a hostel outside of Rome. All the guests are Italian, although the unseen receptionist is probably from the Ukraine. The translations appear to be a Google Translate originals.

Using the stiff rhythms of guidebooks and labored translations to open up theatrical language is not mind-blowing or new–Object Collection anyone? Sibyl Kempson and other artists have explored similar avenues, but Bent enjoys the absurdities of her material in a pleasingly off-hand way, mixing silliness, direct translation, normal American idiom and casual Italian phrases (still in Italian). It’s easy to relax into—supportive rather than distracting.

The setting is funny, the action turns on nothing more than the pursuit of an evening’s pleasure, but there’s a pervasive low-grade sadness present as well, as each member of the hostel’s short term band of comrades faces embarrassment, disappointment or loneliness alongside the happier possibilities of the night.

The formal soliloquy, that clunky convention that many of us struggled with back in high school English class, has been completely re-introduced into our cultural context by the talking head confessionals of reality and faux-reality shows, and it comes as no surprise that characters in The Hotel Colors take a minute by the computer to blog, discuss their feelings with the audience, make out or just regroup before heading back out to the sleepover. Phone calls, too, are confessionals, with no one seeming to call anyone but their disapproving, disappointed mothers.

Bent’s gift is allowing the sadness and the fun to co-exist, with neither being granted undue weight. Unburdened by significance, the audience can just be present. Musical interludes can happen without surprising anyone. A bedtime story can be told.

Hostels are like summer camp—instant, fervent intimacy is a cultural norm. While sometimes exhausting to live through, it’s a welcoming place for a play.

The Hotel Colors is playing at the Bushwick Starr, 207 Starr St. (betw. Wyckoff and Irving aves.), with an extended through June 1. Tickets are $18.00.


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