THE BLOG
05/20/2013 09:54 am ET Updated Jul 20, 2013

Tocca Ferro, (Formal) You: Eliza Bent's The Hotel Colors

Hostels. There is so much to say about these almost-hotels where strangers share spaces like families for a short period of time. There is even more to say about the various kinds of people who pass through those rooms day in and day out. In Eliza Bent's new play The Hotel Colors, currently playing at The Bushwick Starr, we peer into a hostel in Rome and its inhabitants for one night as they form the kind of bond only temporary forced intimacy can foster. This funny, charming show is a kind of chamber piece about communication and the odd moments of community that occur in transit.

Perhaps some of you read my interview with playwright Eliza Bent (which can be found here) in which she discussed her concept for the show. Bent is fluent in Italian and lived in Italy for a period of time. Her interest in the idiosyncrasies of the language, in which phrases literally translate into English as "what the horse do you mean" and "I must control my email," is reflected in a kind of dialogue that ends up sounding like literal translation.

The characters here are all Italian, and they speak in Italian, which we hear as slightly stilted English, with a few words left in Italian. This device both distances us from the characters and also draws us closer. I always enjoy hearing language used in new ways, so that is an exciting aspect of the piece to be sure, yet I also found myself growing used to the forms of expression. It became very interesting to see how the different characters used this structurally clear language -- for example the difference between characters using "you" and "formal you."

The characters are an eclectic bunch, of course, and as the show progressed, I became interested in their individual stories. Two Sardinians named Christina (Christine Holt) and Paola (Kourtney Rutherford), an Italian who now lives in Belfast named "Irish Nick" (Alessandro Magania), a young Economics expert named Bill (Federico Rodriguez), and an aging vagabond who goes by several names (Linda Mancini). Director Anna Brenner gets credit for some excellent performances, especially from Mancini, and I wanted to spend more time with each of these individuals.

At first I thought I had a good sense of the stock types in The Hotel Colors: the self-centered birthday girl Paola and her slightly irritated best friend, the innocent but cute nerd, the rock and roll party guy, etc. But very quickly I realized that there were a lot more levels happening here, and as I got to know more about these people's lives, through the temporary friendships engendered by the community of a hostel, I was happy to see how three dimensional these people became.

The one exception would be the character of Clementino, whose Howard Thoresen was not quite right for this part. His character is auxiliary, but he did not seem at home in this particular world. In fact, though I thoroughly enjoyed the piece, I do think that it is a tad too long. I would watch the core characters for much longer, but I think there are a few pieces that could be trimmed, including the scenes with Clementino.

I want to take a second to acknowledge one rare aspect of this play that I would be remiss not to mention: the importance of the character of the Aging Vagabond. Bent has created a play where a middle-aged woman is a central figure in romantic and general plotlines. In addition to this, all of the other major characters in the play are close to, or in, their thirties. This is really a treat, as the opportunity to see (or for actors to play) people in this age range is not widely available.

The warmth of The Bushwick Starr space mirrors the instant intimacy these strangers feel for each other on stage. Designers Blanca Añón, Ken Goodwin, Ásta Bennie Hostetter, and Yi Zhao have helped create this oddly welcoming little world that we visit for the night. If you are looking for a lovely new play about language, travelling, and the moments where lives cross paths, then formal you should head over to The Bushwick Starr and see The Hotel Colors.

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