Written by and featuring ubiquitous local talent, John Kutz, “Hotel Nepenthe” is the first non-period piece attempted by Actors’ Shakespeare Project. It’s a doozey: unique, whimsical and easily one of the most purely entertaining plays of the season.
A surrealist mystery, it’s peopled by an array of quirky characters linked together in ways revealed only by hearsay and casual name-dropping. To be clear, it’s probably more surrealist than it is mystery. Whether or not these characters inhabit the same time and space, for example, is a matter for constant questioning.
A hotel lobby turns out to be the perfect place to play with such elements. While the fashions of bellboys and desk clerks could put us at almost any point in the last century, the 24-hour cycle of unnatural lighting, soothing music on repeat and perpetual desk service seem to take us out of time all together. ASP plays these design elements to the hilt in the unfinished limbo that serves as their venue, an abandoned storefront in the heart of Davis Square.
About this particular hotel, Nepenthe, two things are quickly made known. Number one: it offers leopard print robes to all of its guests. Number two: some particularly nasty acts have been committed there. Beyond that, the less you know going in the better.
As a playwright, Kuntz has created a host of characters that showcase his range, his comedic chops and his acute sensitivity. But the play is far from simply a star vehicle. It’s actually an ensemble piece, chalked full of equally juicy odd-balls, fully realized here by Marianna Bassham, Georgia Lyman, and Daniel Berger-Jones. It’s the tension created when this collection of down-and-outers collides that makes this play alternately funny, sexy, and thoroughly unsettling.
Directed by David Gammons, this second of ASP’s three-production “Winter Festival,” only plays through March 6. If you have a taste for the off-kilter, catch it before it slinks back off into the shadows.