Chicago Theatre Review
Not Ready for Primetime
The Upstairs Concierge – Goodman Theatre
On the heels of his enormous critical and popular success, the Jeff Award-winning and Pulitzer Prize finalist,“The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity,” playwright Kristoffer Diaz decided to tackle a farce for his next creative venture. In an interview, Mr. Diaz revealed that for this play he was inspired by shows like “Boeing Boeing” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” While the playwright has incorporated into his latest work a few elements found in these classic comedies, Diaz’s attempt at farce unfortunately falls short of the mark.
In all fairness, KJ Sanchez really had her work cut out for her in directing this play. Sadly, however, Ms. Sanchez only seems to have made the production worse by deciding to stage everything bigger, louder and far more frantic than the script demands. What results is a bunch of implausible characters racing up and down staircases, slamming doors, shouting and yelling all over the two-level playing area, in a frenzy of constant hyperactivity resulting in very little purpose. There’s so much over-the-top mugging and screaming that the audience is never able to focus on or empathize with the characters. The actors certainly give it everything they’ve got but it’s out of their hands at this point.
The story loosely centers around the efforts of a married couple, Jeffrey and Dia Hotelman, to open a new, exclusive, boutique Chicago hotel that will cater only to celebrities. Attempting to fulfill every quirky demand and whim of the first three weird and wacky would-be stars, Ella Elizondo, our heroine and title character, runs herself ragged trying to please. She’s assisted (or hindered) by a couple of eccentric, star-struck bellboys named Harvey and Kaz. Their guests include BB, an internet blogger of the rich and famous, Shivery Delicious, a prolific writer of mystery stories, and Rebecca Oaxaca, a sudden You Tube sensation, whose talent as a bunter makes her a much sought-after celebrity. Add to the mix Mark Merriman, a supposed representative for the NY Yankees (or is it the Boston Red Sox?), and an unnamed baseball scout, known only as the Astro Guy, and you suddenly have a stage filled with ten demented, deafeningly loud characters darting every which way, but going nowhere.
The highlight of this production is Todd Rosenthal’s beautifully detailed Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired hotel setting. Although the heavy wooden design seems a bit dark and out-of-place for such a lightweight comedy, the two-storied room, with its organic, Prairie School architecture, looks very authentic. The stained glass windows and lighting fixtures, as well as the mission-style furnishings, are an homage to the Robie House’s less-is-more style. Mikhail Fiksel’s lighthearted pre-show sound design ramps up into a frenzied opening overture that effectively sets the pace for the manic production that follows.
Tawny Newsome’s portrayal of the Upstairs Concierge, a fresh graduate from hospitality management school, is bright, cheerful and eternally optimistic. Ms. Newsome wins the audience’s admiration and empathy with her handling of the playwright’s fast-paced dialogue and her ability to cope with all the nutty characters, while juggling the unbelievable nonsense she’s asked to endure. Ms. Newsome’s Ella Elizondo is cheerfully positive and physically adept, allowing her to deal with the lunacy while conquering all those stairs. The only other likable, relatable character is Alejandra Escalante’s baseball phenom, Rebecca Oaxaca. The actress brings a funny, realistic quirkiness to the role that’s refreshing and makes her friendship with Ella natural and believable. The rest of the cast, especially Gabriel Ruiz and Travis Turner as Harvey and Kaz, all have their humorous moments and are in good enough shape to run around in their underwear and leap from the balcony. It’s just too bad this play is such a waste of all that talent and energy.
Kristoffer Diaz probably has a good farce somewhere inside of him, but this play isn’t it. He does offer a few moments of authentic humor, and an abundance of fast-paced frenzy, but the story never lands and there aren’t many laughs. With its 80-minute length, there’s not much time for much exposition. The audience really needs to get to know these characters and to understand their situation before they can accept the farcical events that follow. As it is now, everything is jammed into the first few moments of this one-act followed by a no-holds-barred race to the finish that never really pays off. This play just isn’t ready yet for primetime audiences.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented March 28-April 26 by the Goodman Theatre in the Owen Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, Chicago.
Tickets are available at the Goodman box office, by calling 312-443-3800 or by going to www.GoodmanTheatre.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.