Grand 'L'hotel' Pittsburgh Public Theater Stages an Ambitious Treat of a World Premiere

By Rawson, Christopher | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), November 25, 2014 | Go to article overview

Grand 'L'hotel' Pittsburgh Public Theater Stages an Ambitious Treat of a World Premiere


Rawson, Christopher, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


It starts with the bustle of farce, as a self-effacing French waiter scurries about to placate the demanding inhabitants of a grand hotel. Its default mode is wit, but the comedy turns intermittently serious, revealing a sentimental heart. Out of nowhere it discovers a hero, ending with a double apotheosis.

Got all that? Such is the ambitious "L'Hotel," a new comedy by Ed Dixon having its world premiere at the Pittsburgh Public Theater.

Mr. Dixon is a theatrical polymath - a busy, successful performer, dramatist, composer, director, teacher and memoirist. Best known for 1,700 performances as the evil-comic Thenardier in "Les Miserables" on Broadway, his usual taste as a playwright is literary - witness, for example, "Shylock," "Richard Cory," "Cather Country" and "Fanny Hill."

Witness also "L'Hotel," which began 15 years ago as "Pere Lachaise." Its main mode is posthumous encounter (such as Sartre's "No Exit"), but rather than discovering they're in hell, these lively inhabitants of the afterlife spar and scheme, determined to be reborn. The other mode is the implausible encounter of famous people (think Steve Martin's "Picasso at the Lapin Agile," where the painter debates Einstein and Elvis).

Mr. Dixon whimsically brings together six famous inhabitants of the celebrated Paris cemetery Pere Lachaise - Italian composer Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868), French author Victor Hugo (1802- 85), French actor Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923), Irish playwright Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), American dancer Isadora Duncan (1877- 1927) and - here's the wild card - American rock star Jim Morrison (1943-71).

Actually, Mr. Dixon doesn't follow his own rules, since Rossini's body was moved to Italy and Hugo was interred in the grander Pantheon. But their spirits find Pere Lachaise more congenial, even though Hugo spends the whole play complaining.

Once gathered, the six talk. And talk. And very good talk it is, because Mr. Dixon is a witty, clever author, and Wilde is the best talker of all time. They talk glancingly about life, death, fame, art, sex ... the major subjects, lacking only God, politics and sports.

Gradually a plot of sorts emerges, their search for rebirth, because undying renown is not enough. The means will be a pregnant young woman who visits the cemetery seeking a hopeful sign from her grandfather. …

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