Hell, as Sartre is famously misquoted, is other people. Even more so if they're all celebrities. That's part of the premise of L'Hôtel, now enjoying its world premiere under the auspices of Pittsburgh Public Theater and its director, Ted Pappas.
Ed Dixon's new comedy is built on the "what if" of how strangers together in death would behave if they could interact. Paris' Père Lachaise Cemetery is the final resting places of hundreds of luminaries, French and otherwise, as well as plenty of the less famous from the past two centuries. L'Hôtel selects six of Lachaise's residents.
L'Hôtel, directed by Pappas, looks absolutely gorgeous. Designer James Noone's lavish hotel interior, crowned by a crystal chandelier, is truly beautiful. Just as sumptuous, David C. Woolard's costumes complement the characters with fine detail, such as Oscar Wilde's velvet breeches and hose of his aesthete period. If only some of those resources and concerns for the visuals had been devoted to historic research.
It's a good thing that dead people cannot sue for slander. Victor Hugo never abandoned his daughter, who suffered from severe mental illness, not an out-of-wedlock pregnancy. While the exact cause of Jim Morrison's death is still unknown, no one has seriously thought it suicide. The precocious and prolific Gioachino Rossini, a wit as well as the most celebrated opera composer of his time, is reduced to a buffoon, an ethnic joke. And least forgivable is the homophobic canard about gay people being anti-procreation — delivered by the father of Wilde's beloved sons.
The lightweight plot does offer some surprises, so I avoid spoilers. It is mainly an excuse for a wonderful cast to don the mantles of famous/notorious artists. Deanne Lorette thrillingly trills as Sarah Bernhardt. The imposing Sam Tsoutsouvas breathes soul and bluster into Hugo. Brent Harris dives into Wilde. Daniel Hartley plays Morrison, Tony Triano portrays Rossini and Kati Brazda is Isadora Duncan.
The most captivating actor, however, portrays a not-so-simple waiter, the most rounded of the characters. Evan Zes seems to defy various laws of physics with his quick, fluid movement; his voice and face also disport a range that is absolute delight.
Despite the overall fuzziness, there's some fun to be found in L'Hôtel.