Gloom Service

A couple of corporate cogs can run, but they can't hide.

Kenneth Hoyle might be a '60s idealist who began his career in the Peace Corps, but during the last couple of decades, he's become well versed in the cloak-and-dagger office wars that define most every adult's working life. Spurred on by the lure of regular promotions and raises as well as an executive position that gives him more job security than the underlings he fires at will, the middle-aged bigwig guards his company's image at all costs -- even when his boss at the international food conglomerate orders the sales force to pose as nurses in order to sell more baby formula to the unsuspecting citizens of Third World countries.

In addition to hollowing out his once-ethical core, Ken's love affair with corporate America exacts a high toll on his relationship with his wife, Barbara. As we learn in Jon Robin Baitz's Three Hotels, the two put up a convincing front as a power couple, traveling to exotic locales and participating in company rah-rah sessions -- until the fallout from a family tragedy forces them both to re-examine their priorities.

Baitz's 1991 drama is being given its regional premiere at the New Nomad Theatre in Boulder. As thought-provoking as it is heavy-handed, the ninety-minute piece consists of three monologues -- each of which takes place in a different hotel room -- that explore Ken and Barbara's travels through corporate culture. Although their frank, informal talks would take on added dimension if some key information had been introduced earlier in the drama rather than alluded to haphazardly, director Terry Dodd's thoughtful approach eventually clarifies the underlying feelings that imprison the couple in separate, straw-clutching spheres.

Paul Page and Deborah Persoff in Three Hotels.
Paul Page and Deborah Persoff in Three Hotels.

During the first scene, for instance, Ken comes off as little more than a smarmy apologist for his firm's cutthroat ways, making no mention of his former life as a do-gooding peacenik. During a business trip to Tangier, Morocco (a locale that, like the others referenced here, is suggested by photographic images projected at the rear of the stage), Ken flatly declares, "Any action is justifiable if the results are profitable" -- a perfectly understandable statement from someone who's always had a bottom-line view of the world. But in the very next scene, Barbara informs us of her husband's previous life as a government-subsidized missioner -- a piece of news that, while surprising, is uttered too late to give the play's first thirty minutes a needed sense of irony.

For her part, the supposedly crafty Barbara proves less than subtle when demonstrating how she copes with her husband's unpleasant situation. She dispenses carefully worded bits of advice to gatherings of trophy wives while gently -- and then not so gently -- blurting out remarks that ultimately make her sound more psychotic than ambivalent. Her observation on how to behave in countries under military rule ("Not to be charming to a junta leader does more harm than to be charming") is quickly followed by this blunt, out-of-the-blue statement: "Of course, not all of you will come back with a dead son."

Although its delayed revelations make the play seem more like a psychological mystery than a probing, self-conscious look at contemporary values, performers Paul Page and Deborah Persoff manage to touch upon the buried losses of husband and wife (who, by design, never directly address each other). The affable Page occasionally searches for his line and sometimes chops up dialogue that should cascade with stream-of-consciousness ease, but he nicely locates Ken's sharp, sometimes self-deprecating sense of humor. He also manages to recount his life's regrets with a degree of resignation that, if not always spontaneous, registers emphatically on the wistfulness scale. As his ultimately immutable wife, Persoff at first endows Barbara with the sort of grim self-muzzlement that's needed to help her mate avoid corporate head-loppers' row. After his inevitable fall, though, she turns further inward, poignantly searching for the reasons she devoted her manifold talents to a cause smaller than herself.

Despite a few technical glitches (and the fact that a few opening-weekend patrons wandered in and out of the auditorium whenever they felt like it), Dodd and company's competently acted finale caps a yearlong effort to transform the proud community organization into an ambitious consortium of professional and amateur groups. Much like the tidal shifts that occur in Baitz's play, that's a welcome change on a landscape traditionally defined by profit-hungry behemoths and under-resourced visionaries.

 
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