Sordid secrets. Carpet stains. Bad wall art. Elemental Theatre Collective invites you to check in, if you dare, to the seediest motel ever seen on Empire Street. Make a reservation for a trip to the dark side when the innovative group presents Vacancy, a world premiere play co-written by artistic director Alexander Platt and founding member David Rabinow, running April 26-May 6 at the 95 Empire black box theater.
Platt and Rabinow challenged themselves to each craft a short drama with a single setting – a motel on the wrong side of the tracks. They wrote separately, within the confines of a four-week deadline, and then combined their pieces into one show. It’s the sort of self-imposed, experimental structure in which Elemental thrives, committed as the troupe is to the collaborative development of new works.
“We tossed around a few ideas, and settled on the motel because it’s a temporary place, a place where you’re in transition, and a place where you want to be anonymous,” Rabinow explains of the gritty, ubiquitous location.
“We also loved the idea that nothing good ever happens in a motel room. You never go to a motel room unless you have no other choice. And if you have been to a motel room under the most pristine circumstances, you can be certain that the person who last checked out left in a hurry,” Platt adds.
The action takes place simultaneously in two adjacent rooms. In Rabinow’s room, a steamy, scary mystery unfolds between scam artists after their partner disappears. An amoral Kent (played by Cliff Odle) tries to rip the truth from an unwilling Linda (Melissa Penick). The missing Rachael (Karen Carpenter) returns in flashbacks, revealing secrets of her own.
Meanwhile, next door in Platt’s room, Marshall (Jeff Hodge) just needs a bathroom. After a sudden and violent bout of illness, he hopes to rest awhile. But there’s no refuge to be found here, especially when he and his lover Elise (Katie Travers) get a visit from a sinister, possibly supernatural stranger (Shura Baryshnikov).
In their annual Go.Go. playwriting festival, Elemental features short pieces written with shared plot points, under tight deadlines. But Vacancy marks the group’s first attempt to merge two distinct plays into one. Rabinow notes, “It should be surprising and exciting and engaging – I’d like the audience to feel almost athletically involved in the play. We’re asking a lot from them, to follow two separate stories as they weave in and out of each other… but I think the payoff is going to be so much fun, and so different than just your usual play-going experience.”
Expect a fresh, fast paced and intense evening in keeping with Elemental’s ethos. As Platt describes it, “We only bring onto the stage what is elemental in telling the story, and in doing so we hope our pieces are intelligent and visceral. Theatre isn’t a polished medium. It’s an art form best served raw.”
Thematically, Vacancy explores issues of lust, trust, betrayal, guilt and remorse. While one of the characters references a Paul Simon tune, it’s his evocative song about the blue-lit Belvedere Motel - “How the Heart Approaches What It Yearns” – that comes to mind. Everyone here is passing through on a frantic, desperate, at times savage search for resolution. From the safe side of the peephole, we get to see if they’ll find it.