Jon Robin Baitz wrote Three Hotels in the early 1990s. Based on its current production by Theater of the First Amendment at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., it may be more relevant today than at the time it was written, focusing as it does on people who behave in ways that suggest they “don’t think other people are actually real.”
The play, comprised of three monologues in a compact 80 minutes, examines issues of personal and professional responsibility with great intimacy. Director Rick Davis is working with two fine actors, Kevin Murray and Mary Lechter, who give a searching look at what’s happening in their world.
In the first monologue, “The Halt and the Lame,” set in a well-appointed hotel room in Tangier, Morocco, Kenneth Hoyle (Murray) seems sure of his place. He’s a rising executive in a multinational company that markets baby formula in the Third World. He is, or at least seems to be, supremely confident; in fact, he rather enjoys being the hatchet man for his bosses.
On the surface, Ken seems like a familiar type – the former idealist and Peace Corps alumnus who, he believes, has wised up to the ways of the world – but there’s more to him than that. He understands that he’s given up a lot to get where he is, including his original last name (Hershkovitz); his ethnic identification (Eastern European Jewish); and his relationship with his parents, old-line Communists.
For now, Ken portrays himself as decisive and always in control of the situation. He describes how a subordinate criticized the company’s deceptive marketing practices – which include dressing up saleswomen as nurses and showing doctors with their product on billboards – saying that people don’t complain about the ad campaign because “you do it in places where white people don’t go on holiday.” Ken offers what he considers the perfect retort: “If it’s so morally indefensible, I suppose this must be your resignation.”
What starts to affect Ken is the toll all this is taking on his marriage to Barbara (Lechter), who appears in the second scene, “Be Careful.” During a company staff retreat in St. Thomas, the company has asked Barbara to address other wives of employees headed overseas (no husbands, apparently) on the intricacies of living in a privileged position in an unfamiliar culture. As she tells them about the necessity of keeping their political opinions to themselves and understanding that “your husband’s mission is not your mission,” she reveals a family trauma that, in her opinion, has turned Ken from the warm, caring man she married into “the Albert Speer of baby formula.”
The third scene, “The Day of the Dead,” returns to Ken and what has happened to his career and marriage following Barbara’s outburst. This rather shabby hotel is in Oaxaca, Mexico, is where they spent their honeymoon, and where he hopes he will be able to reconnect with Barbara.
The setting of the scenes in hotel rooms has a thematic purpose: Ken notes the anonymity of the rooms, how no one knows their history. In much the same way, Baitz seems to be saying, individuals may act without realizing the repercussions of their actions, or either understanding or accepting their place in the world. Whether to emphasize this impermanence or simply as a matter of convenience, Anne Gibson’s scenic design is itself minimal, starting in each case from a bare stage.
Theater of the First Amendment