A set of three monologues, “Three Hotels” by Jon Robin Baitz skillfully pulls the audience into an account of two outrages. What at first seems to be a lot of talk by a charming marketing executive turns into a desperate query of a husband who loves his wife. He’s losing her. Actors Richard Dreyfuss and Christine Lahti electrify the evening.
Veepee of an international company that sells baby formula to the Third World , Kenneth Hoyle (Dreyfuss) has often done the dirty work. He has disguised saleswomen as nurses and encouraged poor women to abandon breast milk for powdered formula. Some mothers watered down the expensive formula or unknowingly used contaminated water — children have died as a result.
Hoyle now is the person who flies into countries to fire executives who do not perform. His life — and his antagonist — is his company. “How do you go to work every day,” he asks, “when everyone disapproves?” In particular, his wife, Barbara (Lahti), has come to despise what he does and what he has become.
Behind the Hoyles’ actions is a personal tragedy they share, one that playwright Baitz slowly reveals. One then understands that Hoyle is so angry at the world — a world he idealistically thought he could help — that he’s lashed out.
Baitz uses monologue not only to connect the actors more directly to the audience, but to paint, in vivid, often metaphorical language, a world filled with specific people and personalities, such as the “writhing, cancerous snake” who is Hoyle’s boss.
Director Joe Mantello (who staged “Love! Valour! Compassion! Off and on Broadway) brings extra dimensions to “Three Hotels.” For example, between scenes , as one actor moves onstage and the other off, husband and wife take a moment to look at each other, as if there’s something that could be said. They remain silent.
Most vividly, at the end of the play, after the words are over, Mantello stages a small, brief action that lends hope.
The hotel room set, designed by Loy Arcenas, becomes three different rooms — one in Morocco, one in the Caribbean, the last in Mexico — through changes in an open doorway and changes in lighting (the latter well designed by Brian MacDevitt).
Dreyfuss holds the stage in the first and third scenes. In the first, Dreyfuss’s trigger laugh underscores ironies. He makes Hoyle entertaining; Hoyle’s casual remarks, though, cut to the truth behind the facade, particularly with mention, mid-scene, of his wife.
In the third scene, Dreyfuss’ whole manner changes with the character; he exposes Hoyle’s vulnerability.
Lahti takes the middle scene. Like Kenneth, her character often skirts the truth. She says that her speech to a group of executives’ wives — the “girls”– went extremely well. (So did a performance at Ford’s Theatre in 1863, the night Lincoln attended.)
Lahti brings a vivid sense of a woman betrayed by herself, by American culture and by the promise of youth.
Evan Acosta is effective as a silent attendant whose presence reminds one of the quiet poverty outside. Costumes by Jess Goldstein, sound by Scott Lehrer and original music by Rick Baitz reinforce the time, place and mood.