The Daily Tar Heel

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Friday August 12th

Fragmented `Baltimore' Fails to Deliver

Lab! Theatre is transporting its audience back to the 1960s for its current production, "Hot L Baltimore." But while the play features quite an extensive, talented cast, the Hotel Baltimore is the star.

A run-down, poised-for-destruction habitat for a slew of the city's undesirables, the hotel is the only home that will accept these unruly but charming vagrants.

"Hot L Baltimore" (picture a burnt-out neon sign) presents a slice-of-life picture of this wacky cast of characters as they cope with the reality of losing the only true home they've ever had.

Written by Lanford Smith, the play is hilariously funny but lacks dramatic power. There are numerous subplots, but none of them gel together to form a coherent whole.

It's also difficult to figure out what in the heck is going on. There are too many instances when the characters speak over one another, and several of the players are hard to understand.

In particular, Michelle Muscatello portrays the elderly Millie as a stereotypical senior citizen, with shawl, hunched-over walk and gum-smacking speech. Hardly anything she says is audible.

With such a character-based play, its success relies on the strength of its performances.

As a whole, the ensemble is incredibly strong, and the appropriately shabby set creates a rich background for the actors to feed on, therefore enhancing their performances.

Amanda Jones steals every scene as April, a smart-aleck prostitute, and Jackie (Melissa Egan), a tough-talking transient, is particularly good.

But the performance of Alison Carey as The Girl is problematic. The play revolves around her life as a young hooker exhilarated by the discovery that a former hotel tenant once worked for the railroad, an institution that had fascinated her since childhood.

When her attempts to discover more about this mysterious tenant come to a premature end, her reaction seems more like a complaining child than a mature woman clinging to the last shred of hope in her life.

"Hot L Baltimore," while entertaining, seems to be taking a cue from the lives of its characters -- it can't quite make ends meet.

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