THE HOTEL NEPENTHE is a four star destination this month (playing through March 20th at the Actor’s Shakespeare Project in funky, fabulous Davis Sq.) Not exactly the “kind” elixir proffered by Poe, a hit of John Kuntz’s NEPENTHE induces a wild ride through a bizarre and often hazardous world. Kuntz’s Grand Hotelesque play embraces eccentrics, crackpots and psychos as they meander in an absurdist roundelay.
Who cares if the through line is perforated, the loosely connected stories are hilarious, even the grimmest of them. Kuntz and director David R. Gammons bombard us with pop allusions: from the Perry Mason theme song to one of my favorite spaghetti westerns (A Fistful of tinkling watch chimes spins Kuntz’s characters around in a frenzy). And if that weren’t enough to make me happy, Kuntz himself melts down royally, in one spectacular bit of business, over the loss of his keys. In that instant, art imitated my life, as I had lost my keys just hours before, enacting a tiny meltdown myself!
The heady cast inhabits over a dozen characters: from Marianna Bassham’s cold, calculating wife of a politician out to compromise her husband to Georgia Lyman’s vacuous starlet for the ages to Daniel Berger-Jones’ ominous cab driver (Is there any other kind in movies and theater?) to Kuntz’s affable taxi dispatcher. The performances are dead on and thanks to Gammons’ ingenious design (scenic and costume) we see the actors transform into their next character. Jeff Adelberg’s lighting morphs as well, from ambient to sinister… and into actual flashes of lightening (via tubes of light outside each “dressing room”). Bill Barclay’s sound, too, plays a pivotal role in the performance, giving the technical crew quite a workout and the audience quite an adventure.