Playwright: Jon Robin Baitz. At: Bluebird Arts at The Athenaeum, 2936 N. Southport Ave. Tickets: 773-935-6875; AthenaeumTheatre.org; $25. Runs through: Sept. 17
This excellent production reminds me of the power and deeply woven texture of this frequently produced 80-minute tragedy.
Kenneth Hoyle ( Dave Belden ) is broken, but we don't know that at first. Addressing us directly from a well-appointed foreign hotel suite, he's a fiftyish executive exuding physical energy and confidence. He likes action and sees plenty in his business marketing baby formula to Third World mothers.
After 27 years, Ken's high on the corporate ladder and now fires underperforming executives ( he never discusses hiring anyone ) and defends the company's indefensible sales strategies at global meetings. He loathes the CEO and chairman above him but relishes his power and license to mock. He easily reveals his birth name is Marcus Hershkovitz, choosing to ignore his Jewish identity rather than deny it.
The shoe drops in the second of three scenes, each a monologue. Set in a different foreign hotel, Ken's wife, Barbara ( Jaimelyn Gray ), tells us Ken's been made president of international operations, and that she's given a speech to other international wives, who live in luxury they couldn't afford at home.
Speaking too frankly, Barbara unloads after years of silent suffering. Some advice is amusing, warming wives never to have affairs with subordinates of their husbands, even though she did. But she also says her husband never "would do something undignified just to get ahead," knowing full-well the corporation's systemic dishonesty. The big reveal, however, is that their adolescent son had been murdered on a Brazilian beach for his expensive watch, and Ken continued with the company. Indeed, the loss may have seeded his rapid climb. Still, Barbara says, "my husband turned to stone" after the death and was not the same man she had married. "Your husband's mission is not your mission," she warns. "Keep the clarity of your own life or you'll come home with dust." Barbara is trying to save her soul.
The last scene is on Day of the Dead in the Mexican hotel where Ken and Barb ( yes, like the dolls ) honeymooned. Ken, now fired and abandoned by Barbara, sets up a Day of the Dead alter to a lost child. As the lights fade, he kneels before it and sings a Yiddish lullaby to his son as Ken, too, tries to save his soul.
Under director Luda Lopatina Solomon, Three Hotels is devastatingly effective. Belden's Ken is more aggressive than I've seen, less slick and more visceral. Gray's quiet counterpoint is powerful because one doesn't know at first where she's headed or why. That's the beauty of Baitz's writing, too. Rick Frederick's set features Lucite furniture and opaque hotel walls, warmly lit by Carl Ulaszek, as if everything was transparent when, in fact, almost nothing is.