One man’s obsession with death and fear of the end threaten to overwhelm his sanity in the Cherry Artists’ Collective’s offbeat, entertaining adaptation of Mexican playwright Alejandro Ricaño’s existential, seriocomic Hotel Good Luck, streaming live through February 20 from the historic State Theatre in Ithaca, where it is being performed without an audience, following all Covid-19 protocols. Although the Spanish-language original premiered in 2015 and Jacqueline Bixler’s astute translation dates from 2019, the play feels fresh and timely, dealing with the eternal themes of loss, loneliness, and disconnection that are so prominent in the current pandemic.
Seth Soulstein stars as Bobby, a grown man living in his father’s basement, where he broadcasts a radio show to four listeners. It’s November 5, and he shares with us on a slide projector screen how his four grandparents died of absurd circumstances, all on November 6 in successive years. Bobby opines that there are “four undeniable truths: 1. Everyone dies. Everyone. 2. Death can be fucking amusing. 3. The world is full of ridiculous coincidences. 4. I fucking hate the sixth of November.”
Terrified of what the next day may bring, Bobby enters what might be a dream or a nightmare, opening the refrigerator and floating into a parallel universe at the Hotel Good Luck where the dead are alive, including his beloved pet, Miller the melancholic dog, and maybe, just maybe, his ex-girlfriend, Lily, may take him back. He meets an alternate version of his best friend, Dr. Larry Torcino (musician and composer Desmond Bratton), his psychoanalyst who, when not at work, plays his double bass in the far corner. He tells Bobby what might be going on with him:
Larry: You don’t need a psychologist, Bobby. What you need is a physicist.
Bobby: A physicist?
Larry: A physicist who specializes in quantum mechanics.
Bobby: Where am I gonna find a physicist who specializes in quantum mechanics?
Larry: It just so happens that I’m a physicist and a specialist in quantum mechanics. It’s my night job. Do you mind if I change my jacket? . . .
Larry goes on to explain, “According to the principle of dimensional simultaneity, two or more realities can coexist in the same space and time. . . . Every little movement we make, Bobby, splits our universe into an infinite series of possibilities. Every little movement instantly opens up an adjacent universe that we can’t see, just an inch away. You’ve apparently discovered in your dreams, Bobby, a portal between one parallel universe and another.”
Soulstein has an irresistible charm as Bobby, a pathetic schlemiel who is not the most thoughtful and caring of men. He wanders across the stage, followed by cameraman Jules Holynski, searching for answers that may never come. However, some elements are within his grasp, such as letters from his mother and father that he magically plucks out of the air, offering new information about his parents’ relationship. Director Samuel Buggeln, who also designed the set — the bold lighting is by Chris Brusberg, with sound by Don Tindall and live video mixing by Noah Elman — takes us behind the scenes as Soulstein moves around the space.
Copresented by New Ohio Theatre, Hotel Good Luck is the second livestreamed, translated play the Cherry has done at the State Theatre, following Josephine George’s English-language adaptation of Gabrielle Chapdelaine’s A Day. While A Day was notable for how it revealed the technology behind the production, which involved Zoom boxes and green screens, Hotel Good Luck is a more standard presentation onstage, but with a more compelling narrative, particularly while we’re sheltering in place, hiding from a deadly virus.
It’s a comforting thought that, especially in these troubling times, we might be able to find what we’re looking for in the magical Narnia looming in the back of our fridge, but it’s not exactly practical in real life. It might not be quite what we need, either, as Bobby discovers. And when it comes right down to it, if you’re a schmuck in one universe, you’re probably a schmuck in another as well. “One has to keep believing, during this brief moment, that nothing is lost,” he says to Lily over the phone. If only.