of the First Amendment

Center for the Arts to Oct. 2

Three Hotels employs a risky concept for a play: Playwright Jon Robin Baitz breaks his story of marriage and professional ethics into a triptych of monologues set in different hotel rooms around the world, leaving husband and wife Kenneth (Kevin Murray) and Barbara (Mary Lechter) Hoyle to tell their stories without ever sharing the stage. Kenneth, an executive for a scandal-ridden baby-formula company, speaks first. He’s in Morocco to fire a fellow manager—work he enjoys well enough and is good at. In the middle segment, at a lovely, flower-strewn hotel in St. Thomas, Barbara reveals that they’re not the happy, globe-trotting power couple they appear to be. Once proud to be a striving corporate wife, she has taken to calling Ken the “Albert Speer of baby formula,” because the company does nothing to warn buyers about the importance of using clean water. She has just given an address to other women about to accompany their husbands on Third World assignments. As she putters around the white room, pausing to take in the view from the balcony, Barbara changes out of her lavender ladies-who-lunch suit and packs up her makeup. The speech she’s given is sure not to sit well with old Evil Co. Not only has she talked openly about the murder of their son when they were stationed in Brazil, but she has also been a little too blunt about the poverty and corruption the wives may encounter. In the final hotel, a small tourist room on a noisy street in Mexico, Ken ruminates about what the choices he has made in his career meant for him as a human being, as he waits, hopefully, possibly in vain, for Barbara to join him. Theater of the First Amendment designer Anne Gibson accomplishes the changing scenes with flats, each of which has a cut-out window, and just a few pieces of furniture. In the hotel in Morocco, the window has wooden shutters with thick tassel pulls, for example; by the time we get to Mexico, Ken’s tiny peephole sports a broken Venetian blind. Director Rick Davis manages to keep Murray and Lechter animated and engaging, finding natural actions—Barbara’s packing, Ken’s cocktail-making—to keep them from becoming talking heads. He also gives them some nice subtle touches, such as Barbara’s leaving behind her blazer and pumps—she won’t need them wherever she’s going. And both Murray and Lechter manage to keep their energy and intensity high. Still, it’s hard for an audience to care about a relationship whose interactions it can’t see. Baitz might have done better to let Ken and Barbara show their stories rather than tell them.

—Janet Hopf