The Hothouse by Dark & Stormy Productions, performing at the Grain Belt Brewery


Sara Marsh and Robert Dorfman in The Hothouse. Photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp.

Sara Marsh and Robert Dorfman in The Hothouse. Photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp.

Dark & Stormy Productions performs Harold Pinter‘s giddily nonsensical The Hothouse in ye olde Grain Belt Brewery’s Atrium (79 13th Ave. NE, through Jan 4).

D&S excels at utilizing “found” venues for their plays – empty offices, warehouse spaces, etc. This lends the work a unique quality, seemingly half-improvised yet crafted and perfect. There isn’t another theater (anywhere, so far as I know), that works like this. Emphasis is placed firmly upon the acting and another thing D&S excels at is finding first rate performers. The Hothouse is no exception, starring (and I’m going to name the entire cast; they’re all marvelous): Bruce Bohne, Robert Dorfman, Bill McCallum, Sara Marsh (also D&S’s producer extraordinaire), Mark Benninghofen and John Catron. These outstanding artists are deftly directed by Ben McGovern, who adroitly uses the large space. Bravo, all.

The Atrium is huge, 3 stories high, all echoey concrete, fluorescently lit. The Atrium has, quite possibly, the worst acoustics in the Twin Cities but don’t fret about this: each person in the audience is given headphones and a wireless device and this permits the actors’ every whisper, every breath, every nuanced intonation, even from across the Atrium, to come through perfectly. The effect startles. At first I said to myself, “Self, this would only work with a play like The Hothouse, combining as it does knockabout comedy with the working out of terrifying power politics.” But I bet that I am, as I am in so many things, wrong. I bet this use of technology, the intimate combined with an echoey larger-than-life, would work for many plays and I fervently hope that Dark & Stormy will explore this further.

How can I summarize a delight like The Hothouse? The “over staff” administers “patients” (who have numbers rather than names). Their roles are vague. Are they nurses? Orderlies? But why are they all wearing trimly cut suits and revealing dresses? Why do they seem more concerned with sex and with internecine politics than with the welfare of their charges? Nothing makes clear sense –

— and you wouldn’t want it to. The Hothouse was written in 1958, part of the now-hoary “theater of the absurd” tradition and the reason it remains so doable is that, unlike other Pinter plays (which suffer, imho, from portentousness and dreary nastiness), The Hothouse is screamingly funny. It shares this quality with another oft-produced T of the A classic, Waiting For Godot.

So: wanna have a good time? See this one.

The actors are all, as I’ve said, excellent, but I have to single out, for especial praise, Sara Marsh. Marsh plays Miss Cutts, sexpot, trying to lure the play’s men to her lair, “Room 1A, the most intimate room.” Obsessed with her womanliness (“Do you think I’m feminine?”) she slinks and sashays and slithers through the Atrium, driving everyone crazy.

And Robert Dorfman, the bug-eyed, spastic and goofy comic genius, writhing in some kind of obscure but compelling emotion, steals every scene he’s in – hard to do with this cast. I promise, you won’t be able to take your eyes off him.

Finally, there is the always marvelous Bruce Bohne. I can’t describe what happens with him without giving away the play’s delicious ending. But know that he’s terrific.

The Hothouse is highly recommended.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His nonfiction book Tell Me A Story In The Dark will be published in March. Recently, John completed a YA novel (Deep River), a play (The Sisters Eight) and two screenplays (A Slaying Song Tonight, and The Deflowering Of Young Father Trimleigh). For more info please visit his (recently updated) website.

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