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In storytelling, the hotel has long served as a framing device for anthologies from Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron and Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales to the Duplass Brothers’ Room 104 on HBO. Theater troupes often use the same trope in developing evenings of short works––Flying V’s Crystal Creek Motel is the second time I have seen a company use this format of setting multiple stories in a single hotel room in the year-and-a-half since my arrival in the District.
The central conceit is that the evening’s 12 stories take place over the 12 months between New Year’s Days 2003 and 2004––the year when Associate Artistic Director Lee Liebeskind lived in motels while touring with the National Players. There are the expected neo-noir crime stories, romantic trysts, an addict on a binge, travelers seeking rest on the way home from a funeral or wedding, and comic skits, along with a pair of housekeepers (Erin Denman and Julieta Gozalo) cleaning up the messes in between. What Flying V brings to the format is a willingness to make things genuinely theatrical: Dance numbers break out, fantasy intrudes—and this keeps the evening mostly entertaining.
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The ambition behind the show is great, and the performances are strong throughout, but few of the stories stick out beyond the note of a clever conceit. When, in “February” (directed by Dan Mori), two wrestlers, the wiry Quincy Vicks and the buff James Finley, meet in Room 109 for a private match (choreographed by professional wrestling consultants Tim German and Joey Ibanez), it doesn’t take long to figure out that the body slams, holds, and throws are how these two grapplers find intimacy. It’s fun to watch, but the big reveal is nothing we haven’t figured out soon after they put their hands on each other. “August,” directed by Kelly Colburn, is an entertainingly macabre comedy featuring Paz López as “The Woman Who is About To Eat” and Linda Bard in her recurring role as Debbie the food delivery worker, but the format doesn’t allow the story to have any consequences.
Of the show’s seven directors, Robert Bowen Smith seems to have the strongest sense of how to use choreography to tell a story and makes the most imaginative use of the set, as exemplified in “June.” It begins as a crime story about human trafficking, but becomes a tale of the trickster hero Coyote narrated in Spanish by López. (An English version of the text is included in the program.) Figures wearing Andrea “Dre” Moore’s exquisitely designed masks emerge from scenic designer Jos. B. Musumeci Jr.’s ingeniously concealed entrances, taking on the personae of owls, ravens, cacti, desperados, and the sunset, who inhabit a series of fantastical tableaux. If there is one piece from this show that contains the promise of great things should it ever be expanded into a longer, stand-alone play it is this one. Smith’s choreography and use of the set are also apparent in his other piece, “April,” in which a woman (Momo Nakamura), waiting for a reunion with an old flame, experiences a reverie about her younger self (Bard) and her lover (Vicks) as a modern dance trio.
Paul Deziel’s projections and Neil McFadden’s sound design reference the pop-culture and current events of 2003, that faraway yesteryear when mobile phones were merely phones, pagers were a status symbol, and people still listened to music on compact discs and the radio, and McFadden is clued in to the entertainment value of malfunctioning technology. Yet despite the images from the Second Gulf War, the events of that year rarely relate directly to the stories, except obliquely in “October,” directed by Aria Velz, which features a young lesbian couple (Bard and Madeline Key) just a month before the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts’ landmark decision in favor of marriage equality. Meanwhile, Amber Kilpatrick has given an appropriately dingy layer of paint to Musumeci’s set for Room 109, with its floor of aquamarine and goldenrod linoleum tiles and unglued brown carpeting.
While there is much to admire in the ambition, experimentalism, cast, and design team for Crystal Creek Motel, it is as important to tell an interesting story as it is to tell it in an interesting way. Sometimes a longer stay is better than full occupancy.
To Nov. 2 at 8641 Colesville Road, Silver Spring. $20-$40. flyingvtheatre.com.