Some of the characters in the vignettes who perpetuated violence or exhibited poor decisions out of desperation showed neither consequences nor accountability for their actions.
John Kuntz’s is a masterful storyteller. His genius to getting his audience to look at the difficult and messiness of life with laughter. His “The Hotel Nepenthe” is a hilariously and entertainingly dark play. But, the dark parts don’t languish long. And, those story parts are quickly snatched away with ridiculously hilarious 1970’s sitcom theme songs from “The Odd Couple,” “One Day At A Time,” “Bewitched,” “The Jeffersons,” to name a few” and Starland Vocal Band’s hit song, “Afternoon Delight.”
The search, however, for a cohesive or common narrative thread might appear elusive and frustrating at times. But it’s intentional. “I like non-linear storytelling because it demands active participation from the audience…an audience has to figure things out,” Alex Lonati, the play’s director shared with the audience during the Q&A after the performance. And, John Kuntz at the Q&A obliquely hinted to Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” as a way to give the audience a frame of reference and POV to examine his play.
Two random people in transit interact in such a way that can alter the trajectory of their lives or does it? you’ll ask yourself. Kuntz plays with this haunting question as a lens to look at loss, infatuation, intrigue, desire, and well, the inexplicable. The random interactions are wildly humorous but not wildly improbable, and all take place in and around “The Hotel Nepenthe.” And like the drug, “nepenthe” depicted in Homer’s “Odyssey” the characters are desperately seeking ways to alleviate grief, pain, and trouble from their lives. And their choices are not always good ones.
As I sat in the audience, I thought of Doris Day’s 1956 silly hit song “Que Sera, Sera” (whatever will be, will be) because some of the vignettes, in my opinion, exhibited recklessness and privilege suggesting the characters’ actions had neither personal nor moral agency. Also, some of the characters in the vignettes who perpetuated violence or exhibited poor decisions out of desperation showed neither consequences nor accountability for their actions.
There are vignettes that’ll give you a belly ache from laughter, a heartache from unresolved answers, and at times both: a starlet entertaining her paramour with an exaggerated tale about walking a red carpet seeing people from the present and past; a gay man who sets out to rescue his suicidal lover randomly ends up with a violently rageful taxi driver who locked the previous passenger in the trunk of his cab; a vengeful political wife out to blackmail her spouse with a low-paid sex worker; and, a troubled purple-clad young mother who abandons her baby with a night cab dispatcher, to name a few.
“This play is difficult to describe,” Lonati wrote in The Hotel Nepenthe playbill. “But the one thing they all have in common is their shared search for connection and their attempts to figure out why they are here, and whether or not it all matters.”
The four thespians-Margaret Clark, Rebecca Schneebaum, Cam Torres and Michael Underhill-are superb method actors with boundless energy in a 90-minute non-stop high octane performance. They shift and morph into eighteen complex characters through a series of vignettes, all of whom are experiencing some form of existential angst. “I wish that my life mattered, somehow. That this pervading sense that this is all just a bunch of random stuff happening would dissipate. And through all the chaos, everything would somehow make sense,” the Girl in Purple states.
With many of the storylines left hanging it might leave you hanging with a feeling of incompletion and in some cases in total confusion. But, if you’re looking for Kuntz to give you a definitive answer to those scenes in “The Hotel Nepenthe,” you’ll won’t find it. That’s the work for you to do. And it’s worth the journey.
“Kuntz creates a Noir-esque world that mixes humor, danger, and a touch of absurdism. The episodic scenes weave seamlessly to tell stories of people who are lost and lonely. The play left me with no answers, only questions but it was extremely satisfying. In the end, I felt like I had gone on an adventure. I highly recommend this play to any theater whose audience enjoys being provoked in a dark and playful way, “Bridget O’Leary stated in her review of the play.
John Kuntz is a Boston-based actor, playwright and solo performer. He is a founding company member of The Actors Shakespeare Project. Kuntz’s Hotel Nepenthe was the 2012 BWW winner in the category for Best Actor in a Play – Medium Theater.
Thanks to Brown Box Theater and their continued commitment to making theatre accessible to all audiences, The Hotel Nepenthe is free of charge throughout its two-week run at Atlantic Wharf (290 Congress Street) in downtown Boston from March 2-4 and 9-11.
Published by the South End News on 3/9/2018.