This Canadian comedy set in a seedy motel room can't seem to get past a certain level
Reviewed by Robert Faires, Fri., Sept. 14, 2007
Hyde Park Theatre, through Sept. 29
Running time: 1 hr, 25 min
The motel room in which Loretta has taken refuge has that look of a place you go when you've run out of options. Shoddy old end tables and chairs with 30 years' worth of chipped edges and worn sides. An AC unit dating back to the Eisenhower administration. Tatty plastic blinds covered by curtains so thin they look to be made out of Kleenex. And the flimsy wood paneling encasing the room seems not only to be caked with grime but covered by a thin film of resignation. See, Paul Davis' set for Hyde Park Theatre's production of Featuring Loretta conveys not only the shabbiness of a down-at-the-heels motel but the sense of surrender that comes from inhabiting such a place. If you don't see roaches skittering across the threadbare carpet, it's just because they've given up. In this kind of place, most things do.
Not Loretta, of course – at least not initially – in this comedy by Canadian playwright George F. Walker. As she takes pains to explain to everyone – to the distressed family members who keep her phone ringing off the hook, to the two men vying for her attention to the point of harassment, to the motel owner's daughter – Loretta has a number of options for her future that she's considering, and we can see the resolve in the face of Michelle Keffer's Loretta. Hope hasn't checked out of her room yet, despite the fact that, as we come to learn, she doesn't have much to be hopeful about. Her husband, who had been sleeping around on her, wound up a wilderness repast for a ravenous bear. The extramarital exercise she engaged in as payback left her carrying the child of the guy she slept with. As for those options she's so insistent about? They seem to consist of dating a salesman of industrial screws whom she met at the steak house where she waitresses or starring in a series of sex films by a guy who books topless dancers into strip clubs. It's the screw or be screwed.
Oddly enough, though, that's not the worst of it for Loretta. She's ready to make a choice without any hand-wringing over morality or her condition. But almost everyone around her wants to make her decisions for her: her husband's parents; her baby's father; the salesman and the aspiring porno king, both love-struck and fighting over Loretta like schoolboys over a coveted aggie; even Sophie, the sweet Russian expat whose dad left the KGB for motel management. Much of the play is about people trying to take away other people's options in order to determine their lives' direction. (It's also an issue for Sophie, who was browbeaten by her perpetually yelling father into studying physics, which she hates.) Walker sets up the theme from an interesting angle but then never really does much with it. He provides a little forward motion dramatically but keeps circling back to the same routines: the ringing phone, the pushy callers, the declarations of love, the fights between Loretta's suitors. You can sense the repetition being used as a device, escalating the frustration in the characters – Oh! Here we go again! – for comic effect. But the lack of development in the characters undercuts the comedy. The cluelessness of the guys wears thin, as does Loretta's irritation with them. And Ken Webster's spare direction, which has served many a Hyde Park show before, doesn't do much for this one. The reactions of the characters, their movements, and, ultimately, their relationships don't vary that much, and despite some charming bits – notably from Ben Wolfe, neatly balancing sleaze and sincerity as the guy with the sex-film dream, and Liz Fisher, as an appealingly droll Sophie – the show feels like it can't get past a certain level.
That feeling is reinforced by the production's final image: the two women seated side by side on the fleabag bed, staring straight ahead and listening to the two men outside fighting – yet again! – over Loretta. It feels like this scene will keep playing itself out forever, and in a motel room this seedy, it feels like the end of the line. You half expect a neon sign above the door to be flashing "No Exit."