Theater: Steppenwolf presents Lanford Wilson’s classic ‘The Hot L Baltimore’

By Edith McCauley
Theater Critic

Steppenwolf has a history with Lanford Wilson. In 1980, John Malkovich directed his Balm in Gilead at the Hull House on Broadway. The cast consisted of most of the original company—Gary Sinise, Terry Kinney, Jeff Perry, Laurie Metcalf, Joan Allen, John Mahoney, Billy Petersen, Glenn Headly, Randy Arney, Fran Guinan, Tom Irwin, Rondi Reed, Al Wilder, Rick Snyder and Gary Cole. The production went on to Broadway and captured national recognition.

Hot L captures much of the current anxiety over loss of self and home. Set at the end of the Vietnam War, its theme is completely contemporary, and the hotel is the perfect setting. A grand hotel fallen on hard times, it shelters a collection of misfits. Everyone is searching for answers…the railway system, a grandparent, a place of former employment, and above all…self.

The soaring set incorporates the lobby and the rooms above, where we see much of the action. The ladies of the night entertain their customers. Yasen Peyankov (Mr. Morse) wanders and searches for all that is missing. Molly Regan (Millie), alone as she ages, sings her sad song. Jon Michael Hill (Bill Lewis) and James Vincent Meredith (Mr. Katz) struggle to keep the doors open until Memorial Day. Sean Allan Krill is “the Man,” an undefinable character who represents better days.

The extremely strong cast brings energy and definition to the work. As a company, they so well represent all that is good at Steppenwolf.

Tina Landau directs. An ensemble member since 1997, her nationally recognized talent comes to the fore. Hot L Baltimore runs through May 29. Tickets are available at 1650 N. Halsted. Call (312) 335-1650 or go online at Steppenwolf is located near all public forms of transportation and is wheelchair accessible. Street and parking lot are available. Assistive listening devices and large-print programs are available for every performance.

From the April 20-26, 2011 issue

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