How it’s New York: The show premiered at St. Ann’s Warehouse, Brooklyn, one of the consistently most innovative
houses in NYC, and it’s co-presented by the Prototype festival, one of NYC’s several January new work and innovation festivals, and by Irish Arts Center.
How it’s Irish: The book is by Irish playwright Enda Walsh, and Irish composer Donnacha Dennehy.
“The Last Hotel” is not a place you’d want to make an extended stay. It appears to have one room. There
Nobody gets off scot free.
isn’t a business lounge. Laundry services are unclear.
It’s a place to go to die.
The opera by playwright Enda Walsh and composer Donnacha Dennehy is unsettling, funny, strange, and unforgettable.
It stays with you. It whispers in your ear as you drift off to sleep, like a ghost, or a memory.
It is produced by Landmark Productions and Wide Open Opera, and presented in NYC by St. Ann’s Warehouse. It’s cop resented by Prototype and Irish Arts Center.
In it, an Irish Woman (Claudia Boyle) meets up with an English couple (Robin Adams and Katherine Manley) who’ve taken the ferry to meet her at a tacky hotel on its last legs, for what you gradually realize is going to be her assisted suicide. She does not appear to be sick, just existentially depressed. And there’s a Porter (also called the Caretaker in the script) on the grounds (Mikel Murfi) who occasionally bursts into arms akimbo fits.
“The Last Hotel” is not the easiest 90 minutes to sit through: Dennehy’s music (conducted by Andre de Ridder the night I went, conducted by Alan Pierson on alternate nights) is often discordant, with melody lines soaring above. It’s played virtuosically by a 12-person orchestra, Crash Ensemble, sitting above the action. Reviews from productions in Ireland and Scotland mention Irish folk music; I have to say I didn’t hear it.
Letting you know the premise of the opera isn’t a spoiler: the synopsis is right there in the program. It really helps to know what is coming to find your way in: the opera begins with spoken lines before blasting into music. The lines are all projected on supertitles, too, so no need to miss any of them.
And what lines they are.
Husband (Adams) sings
Man is nothing without dreams, without vision we’re stone.
And what he means is his dream of adding an extension to his house, with the money he’ll get for helping the lovely Irish lady kill herself (She may have been his mistress; it’s not clear, but she clearly likes him).
That’s wickedly funny, and Enda at his best.
The opera works the most magnificently when its weirdest.
Husband also gives a PowerPoint presentation about the house and how he’ll change it. All to music.
The germ of the idea apparently sprang from an assisted suicide in Sligo in 2002. But, as Enda explained to me at the opening (we’ll try to get the comments in a podcast ASAP) he and Dennehy veered off from that quickly.
But the show is not merely black humor either. (Although it was fascinating to hear from one of the producers that there were more laughs in New York. That makes total sense to me.) Before the suicide, there’s a gruesome scene of a “rehearsal” for it– Husband is a gas fitter, which is how he has access to the gas tanks; they put a bag over Woman’s head and she breathes until she passes out.
Woman (Boyle) sings about how she is not seen, enough, how love is not enough for her. And her man has left her. But she’s beautiful, and vivacious, and we see her ignoring phone calls from her children wondering where she is, resentful at first and then with a touch of anxiety.
Boyle is gorgeous, and a lovely soprano, too. One can’t help thinking that Paxil would go a long way. And talking therapy.
In fact, after a lovely scene between her and Wife (Manley) it looks as if she may call it off:
It may lighten. It may change.
Something else. Maybe better. Something new. Something rare.
Something that isn’t me.
Don’t get your hopes up.
The singing throughout is gorgeous, and Manley’s voice is heart-stopping as well. I wish they hadn’t been miked– perhaps a necessity to be heard over the orchestra, some of which is electric. Denny’s orchestration deftly adds plot as well; an electric guitar coming in, or drums.
The voices are all gorgeous, and a late song by Wife (Manley) is particularly haunting, as well as melodic.
Murfi has a physical melt-down, after Wife gets too drunk and starts snogging him, that is tremendously funny, and a little scary. He doesn’t sing, but his presence, while mysterious, adds tension to the show. Jamie Vartan’s shabby set design is evocative and strange, as are his costumes. A light sphere made out of hangers, off the central platform of the stage, was particularly arresting.
The run at Prototype, which ends tomorrow, is a short one. The opera is short as well. And the assisted suicide only took, in the end, one day. Yet in a black final scene Enda shows us that nobody gets off scot free.
Neither does the audience.