Grand Hotel based upon Vicki Baum's text is a musical involving a cast of twenty-one talented actors and actresses from The American University. The playwrite intended this story to be an opportunity for the audience to peek into the lives of the people associated with Grand Hotel and find out the important details of their lives. The whole idea of the show is voyeurism and we get this sense both from the physical setting and the text of the show. Vicki Baum is well known for grouping sketches of the thoughts and actions of her characters into a coherent whole. Through these small and sometimes brief moments we spend with her characters we learn much about who they are and why they act in the manner which they do. She uses a highly complex interwoven plot and a fast pace to keep the audience on their toes, not quite sure of what will come next.
I believe that the director of the play, Gail Humphries Breeskin, intended this show to be about both that sense of voyeurism I spoke about earlier and about relationships. This idea was reinforced at the seminar held after the performance on November 9, 1995 in which various members of the cast and crew came together to talk about the production of the show. The show includes a wide array of different types of relationships and throughout the course of the evening we watch as they evolve and change, sometimes into good things and other times into ugly things. Just as we see things happen in life so do we see things happen on the stage. Theater is the manifest performance of the social drama and this fact is evident with the show Grand Hotel.
The director took a very large and flashy show and attempted to make it fit into the small space of The Experimental Theater. I do not think that she was all that effective. I felt that the show overtook the space it was in and left little room for the audience. I was seated in the first row, roughly five inches from the stage, and that was very uncomfortable for me. Perhaps even more uncomfortable than that was the fact that there was a cast member seated inches from me and staring directly out at me at times. Being on the side of the stage made me feel removed from the entire show, for I felt much of the main action played best for the audience members seated center. It was as if the director forgot about those of us sequestered on the sides of the stage. It is a definite problem when the head of the performers blocks the audiences view of the main characters. It makes following the plot and staying in the show very difficult.
The performers did an excellent job considering the conditions they were working under. I think it must have been incredibly difficult to be one of the cast members seated along the perimeter of the stage for basically the entire show. That must require a great deal of focus to stay in character. I felt as if they pulled that off beautifully. Often times I found myself watching them instead of the main characters who didn't really grab my attention. This happened especially when I was not able to see the main characters because of the cast member blocking my view. I think this was a very hard show and perhaps not the best choice that could have been made. I was not really interested in any of the characters as I was with the characters of Fashion. I felt as if they were just up there saying their lines and that they were not really interested in what was going on. I felt that the show lacked changes in intensity and instead of following the plot of the entire show we were just hustled from one scene to another with no real sense of flow between them. My mind would wander. I would have to force myself back into the show. This is not a good thing to have happen.
I felt as if the main characters did a fairly good job in their expression of their characters but the way in which the text itself was written did not lend itself to creating and relationship between the audience and the characters. As soon as we would begin to get involved with one of the characters their scene was over and a new mini-story with different characters would appear on the stage. I understand that this is a part of the way the Ms. Baum writes but I do not feel that it lends itself to the theater very well. Traditional theater revolved around the idea of really getting to know the characters and empathizing with them. This did not occur during the course of this show. Perhaps I reacted the way I did to this show because it was something new to me and it usually takes time to adjust to something new. I would like to express my extreme praise to the cast of Grand Hotel. They were part of a difficult show and they made the best they possibly could of their situation.
The production values were also nothing I was that impressed with. While I do understand the complexity of the set I thought it was too large for the space and that it did not fit well with the overall mood that was trying to express itself. I did not understand why the floor was blue. I liked the black and gold motif for the rest of the set but the blue just really threw me. I also found the columns to be unaesthetically pleasing. For me they seemed to be in the way. I do understand that they were suggesting a feeling that the audience was peeking into the lobby, but I just don't think it worked in this instance. The lighting was better than the sets but at times I found that in fault also. Most noticeably in err was the spot that centered on Elizaveta when she was center stage. The Grand Hotel sign blocked out part of her light leaving her face in shadows. I presume that was not something that was planned. The costumes were interesting. I thought that the men were extremely well dressed but that the women were put into left overs that were lying around the costume shop. The chorus members had boring dresses which they attempted to dress up by adding a piece of lace. Raffaela had bizarre colors and combinations. I am not up to date on fashion back then but I certainly hope people were not walking around dressed as she was. The sound had its good and bad parts. The orchestra was exquisite. The miking of the performers was very distracting because at times you were listening to their natural speaking voices and then in the middle of a word the microphone would kick on and they would get ten times louder. I just felt it was not consistent and that inconsistency kept knocking me out of the world of the play.
I felt as if this show just did not fit into the space it was in. As an audience member I felt crowded and there was not that sense of comfortable distance that most theaters give the audience in respect to the performers. I just felt generally uncomfortable and at times overwhelmed by the size of the show. These fact took away from my enjoyment of the evening. The entire time I was in the theater I felt as if the people involved in the production were not thinking ahead to the fact that an audience would be in the theater with them watching the show they were creating. I feel as if I cannot stress enough the extreme discomfort I felt throughout the evening. Theater should be an enjoyable experience and this show just did not fit the bill.