@ The Black Box Theatre, 430 N. Main St.
 

The Hothouse

By Harold Pinter, directed by Algernon D'Ammassa

  • (L to R): Gibbs (Eric Brekke) and Miss Cutts (Nora Brown)
  • (L to R): Lobb (Gorton Smith) and Gibbs (Eric Brekke)
  • (L to R): Roote (Mike Cook) and Lush (Danny Wade)
  • (L to R): Roote (Mike Cook) and Tubb (David Salcido)
  • (L to R): Roote (Mike Cook) and Gibbs (Eric Brekke)
  • (L to R): Gibbs (Eric Brekke) and Lush (Danny Wade)
  • (L to R): Roote (Mike Cook) and Gibbs (Eric Brekke)
  • (L to R): Lamb (Julian Alexander) and Gibbs (Eric Brekke)
  • (L to R): Miss Cutts (Nora Brown) and Lamb (Julian Alexander)
  • (L to R): Gibbs (Eric Brekke), Lamb (Julian Alexander and Miss Cutts (Nora Brown)
  • (L to R): Gibbs (Eric Brekke) and Miss Cutts (Nora Brown)
  • (L to R): Lush (Danny Wade), Roote (Mike Cook) and Gibbs (Eric Brekke)
  • (L to R): Lush (Danny Wade) and Roote (Mike Cook)
  • (L to R): Roote (Mike Cook) and Miss Cutts (Nora Brown)
  • (L to R): Lush (Danny Wade) and Roote (Mike Cook)
  • (L to R): Gibbs (Eric Brekke), Lamb (Julian Alexander and Miss Cutts (Nora Brown)
  • (L to R): Roote (Mike Cook) and Gibbs (Eric Brekke)
  • (L to R): Gibbs (Eric Brekke) and Lobb (Gorton Smith)

Mar 13-Mar 29, 2015

FRI MAR 13,20,27 | 8:00 PM
SAT MAR 14,21,28 | 8:00 PM
SUN MAR 22,29 | 2:30 PM
THRS MAR 26 | 7:00 PM

Description

The play takes place in a dubious government institution where patients or inmates are referred to by numbers and where something menacing is going on. The senior staff of this place engage in veiled intrigues and strange, vicious games as the director, Colonel Roote, slides quietly into madness. Meanwhile, the anonymous patients are becoming restless.

Director Algernon D'Ammassa describes 'The Hothouse' as "Pinter's Forgotten play, and one of his best." The play was originally written in 1958, between his famous early works 'The Birthday Party' and 'The Caretaker,' but was shelved for twenty years. It was first staged in London in 1980 (directed by Pinter himself) and saw its American premiere in 1982. Despite critical acclaim, the play remained obscure until popular revivals at the Royal National Theatre and in London's West End during the last decade.

This production by No Strings Theatre Company assembles many faces familiar to the local theatre scene, who have been rehearsing intensively since before Christmas due to the complexity of Pinter's play.

Credits

Gibbs
Lamb
Lobb
Lush
Miss Cutts
Roote
Tubb
Director
Lighting
Written By

Reviews

Black Box premieres Pinter's lost play
- By Zak Hansen , Las Cruces Bulletin

In the winter of 1958 - between the initial failure of the later-lauded "The Birthday Party" (1957) and the immediate commercial and critical success of 1960's "The Caretaker" - Nobel Prize-winner English playwright (and screenwriter, director and actor) Harold Pinter penned "The Hothouse." Dissatisfied with the final product, Pinter placed the script in a desk drawer where it remained for more than 20 years.

Re-read and resuscitated by the author in 1979 and making its 1980 debut at London's Hampstead Theatre, directed by the author himself, Pinter's "The Hothouse" made its premiere on American soil in 1982 - a performance attended by an awestruck, then-11-yearold future fixture of the regional theater scene, director Algernon D'Ammassa, who will bring Pinter's so-called "lost" play to the stage of the Black Box Theatre for nine performances beginning Friday, March 13.

"This particular play is interesting in that it was basically a forgotten play," D'Ammassa said Monday, March 9, in between last-minute pounding away at the production's set. "He wrote it in 1958 when he was just becoming well-known, and he didn't like it so he put it in a desk drawer for 20 years. Twenty years went by and the politics changed, and theatre changed, and he found this play and read it and went, 'Hey, this is pretty good now.' It's like a time capsule."

"The Hothouse" is set in a vaguely intentioned government institution - referred to alternately as a "rest home" and a "sanatorium," populated with heard but never seen "residents" or "patients" - and deals with the goings-on of its bureaucratic staff members, especially the director Roote, whose professionalism and sanity are undermined at every turn by his numerous underlings - and mayhem begins to foment among the facility's residents.

"It takes place in this government institution, but it's very covert," D'Ammassa said. "It's never explicitly stated what they do. It appears to be a mental hospital, but it might also be a place for political prisoners to get experimented on - it's never spoken. The reason for that is the play centers on the leader and the staff members of this institution and their sort of violent intrigues amongst each other, and the bubble that this leader has around himself. "It's really a play about a dictator, but he's not the dictator of a country; he's the dictator of this beat-up little institution, but it's the same personalities, the same dynamic and the same uses of power, and everybody around the leader is kind of squabbling and jockeying among themselves."

D'Ammassa said that while the play was penned pre-1960, lost until 1980 and didn't gain critical notoriety until recently, "The Hothouse" is timely as can be.
"A lot of people don't know this play even if they know Pinter, and it's actually one of his best plays, and doesn't get done very much," he said. "It's sort of between his early absurdist stuff and his later, more politically issue-oriented works. It has unmistakably resonance in an era of Guantanamo Bay and black sites and all of these things going on. It's so ahead of its time it's somewhat bizarre."

His early exposure to the work - and its impact - too led D'Ammassa to choose this of all Pinter's work. "I'm not being overly dramatic when I say that it turned me," he said. "At 11, I was already interested in acting, but when I went to see the premiere of this show, even though I wasn't yet able to follow all the nuances of the script yet, it was such a gripping evening of theatre that it ... it made it clear to me that I'd spend the rest of my life doing theater.

"Over the course of the play, it is funny, it is scary, it is weirdly erotic, and all of these passing experiences that just, when I was 11, I thought, 'What is this? I have to be in a room with this kind of work the rest of my life.'" Featuring a cast of familiar faces to the local theater community including Julian Alexander, Eric Brekke, Nora Brown, Mike Cook, David Salcido, Gorton Smith and Danny Wade, rehearsals for "The Hothouse" began before Christmas and continue right up until opening night, an almost unheard-of span of rehearsal time for a small, volunteer theater production, which usually runs up to six weeks. According to D'Ammassa, though, the complexity and nuance of Pinter's play deserves, and requires, no less.

"For many of the actors in the show, it's their first time performing Pinter," he said. "Pinter is not exactly realistic, though at times it may seem that way, it is actually a stylized performance style and the actors have to work on it in a very specific way. I don't know that any of them have done Pinter before. We've had a really long rehearsal process because at times they've had to kind of go into class and work out how we actually prepare and rehearse this stuff."

The complexity of the material and the all-volunteer cast's months-long commitment to the project should make "The Hothouse" unique amongt local productions - one of D'Ammassa's goals from the get go." Part of the goal of the project has been to do more challenging material and to do it well. Las Cruces is basically getting a professional-quality performance of Pinter - and they're getting it for 12 bucks," he said with a laugh. "These actors really deserve some sort of civic award for going to these lengths to make this available to the community.

"I think if the community can get in the room and see this play, it will give them much to talk about on the way home, about first of all, what is the play about - the themes in the play are actually very contemporary, so I think it is a play about what is going on in our world now," he said. "Coming and seeing what the potential is in an evening of theater - something you can't get from your IPhone, you can't get from a movie. As much as I love film, live theater is a different experience altogether. I hope people can find their way to the theater to experience this and see where it takes them."

"The Hothouse" opens Friday, March 13, at the Black Box Theatre, 430 N. Main St. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays, March 22 and 29, and 7 p.m. Thursday, March 26. The final performance will be Sunday, March 29. Tickets are $12 regular admission, $10 students and seniors 65 and older and $8 for all seats on Thursday. For more information, call 523-1223.

'Hothouse' turns up the heat
- By Marissa Bond, Las Cruces Bulletin

The cast of "The Hothouse," currently playing at the Black Box Theatre, has been rehearsing since before Christmas, and the result proves they have used that time well.

I was expecting "The Hothouse" to be incisive, difficult and strange - and in all counts, I was not disappointed.

I did not, however, expect it to be funny. A great deal of the humor is in the delivery, which was delightfully, Christmas-morning perfect - when you anticipate good things, but the actual event exceeds your sugarplummed expectationsa. Nor did I expect it to be suspenseful, so slaked with horror. As someone who has been inured to entertainment terrors by nerve-numbing repetitious jump scares, I was surprised by the chilling power of a lighting change or the ominous implication of a door opened in deliberate silence, a figure solidifying in the blackness beyond. The play utilizes Kubrickian horror - light, sound, suggestions of things hidden and unexplained and terrifying in their wide-eyed open-endedness.

"The Hothouse" takes place in an institution, alternatively described as a "sanitorium" or a "rest home," the actual nature of which is unclear. Its patients - numbered, not named - ghost our perception and the plot. The director of the institution, Roote, is coming undone, and whether his unspooling is the result of a twitchy defect in his own machinery or the machinations of the staff remains unclear.

There is no doubt that the staff is plotting, however. His subordinate, Gibbs, is clipped, condescendingly submissive, but works the muscles of his jaw to masticate the words sutured into his "Yes, sirs." Cutts, another employee and Roote's mistress, has ambiguous loyalties but obvious desires. Meanwhile, Lush is most overt in his insubordination, but calmly so, as if he marked the deck of cards himself and has no doubt where the aces are tucked.

The play visits on many themes - ambition, regret, bureaucratic corruption, belonging and sacrifice are just a few - and remains broad enough in its satire to allow for its interpretation to mutate along with the times. Pinter swings back and forth between subtlety and bluntness (his naming convention, for instance, falls into the latter category), keeping our eye on a moving point that tips a foil just long enough to keep us from seeing whose arm wields it.

As someone desperately (and, honestly, unrequitedly) in love with words, it is rare that I truly love a play if the script is not the best part. But the script, while strong, mysterious and compelling, was secondary to the direction and the performances, both of which kept me engaged and even fearful.

The scene between Danny Wade and Eric Brekke was so powerful in its intensity - I have seen both actors in other productions, but this one had standout performances from both. Each dispenses his lines in even pulls, carefully measured delivery rife with subtext.

Most of the characters have at least one opportunity for an extended monologue, and Wade (a spot-on Lush) handles his perfectly, a snowfall of settling diatoms, each word light, small, gathering innocuously into an immovable deposition.

Erik Brekke was truly a revelation as Gibbs. Brekke gives an impressively layered performance, creating a complete character whose complex interior roils and bursts through his controlled surface.

As Roote, Mike Cooke is both bombastic and befuddled, preening and pedantic, keeping these extremes in a range that is credible for his character. He embodies body the drunk, petty power of bureaucracy - not necessarily evil, but the possibility hangs as an unanswered question.

Nora Brown had to struggle against an unfairly incomplete female character - a fault in the script, not her own - but with Cutts' unclear motives and reductive femme fatale dialogue I can't help but wish that Brown had been given more to work with. Though the play is painted with broad-brush satire, it seems the other characters had more crevices of nuance to fill than Cutts' seduction and masculine/feminine narrative.

When Julian Alexander, as Lamb, describes himself as "an energetic sort of chap," you believe him, and he adds a fresh, innocent energy to the brittle, fluorescent coolness of the rest of the staff. In the distraught moments at the close of the first act, the audience is all with him.

David Salcido as Tubbs and Gorton Smith as Lobb were two talented performers that round out D'Ammassa's all-star cast. Though they each had smaller roles, they were a delight on stage and I hope to see more from both of them soon (I'm looking at you, David).

The set perfectly encapsulates what director Algernon D'Ammassa described as "not actually in a time period so much as a place that hasn't changed with the times." A stopped clock on the wall reinforces that image, while the anachronistic collection of props, off-kilter furniture and webbing tiles emphasize a dizzy, disproportionate throb. Like the performances themselves, it is the collection of details that generates the power and authenticity of the play.

D'Ammassa, rather than relying on pre-recorded sounds, used live microphone readings when required and physical sounds that were, exceeding the embellishment of eloquence, just brilliant, and I cannot explain them further without mitigating the impact of their first appearance. D'Ammassa makes full use of the black-box theater style, emphasizing the sensation that we are not ephemeral visitors watching the events transpire from a gauzy distance but within the sweating brick of the institution itself. The lighting was phenomenally designed by Peter Herman - treading back and forth between realism and emotional impact, guiding the audience through the "Dr. Caligari" dreamscape. The use of red lighting - brighter than blood, siren-red, a color that is as much noise as light - plays such a powerful and ominous role I almost wanted to see it in the program, give it its own ovation at the end.

It is true that not all the British dialects were consistent, and some casting decisions were stronger than others, but these did not detract from what is, at whole, a powerfully performed and innovatively directed work. I highly recommend you take the time to see "The Hothouse" and appreciate the polished fruit of several months' worth of effort. Go this weekend, because you will probably want to visit it again - I know I will.

"The Hothouse" runs through Sunday, March 29, at the Black Box Theatre, 430 N. Main St. Performances are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays and 7 p.m. Thursday, March 26. Tickets are $12 regular admission, $10 for students and seniors; all seats on Thursday are $8. For more infor mation or to make reservations, call the Black Box Theatre at 523-1223.

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