Characters are central to the story in any play, but in Lafayette Society for Performing Arts’ upcoming production of “The Hot l Baltimore,” they are the story.
The play, which opens Thursday as a dinner theater show where patrons can bring food before show time, takes place in the titular hotel Hotel Baltimore, which has a missing “e,” and focuses on the residents of the dilapidated establishment. After finding out the hotel is to be demolished, the residents are left to figure out what they will do.
The characters — their motivations, actions and interactions — are the central focus of the story, which takes place over a 24-hour period. Director Jeff Sargent said the play allows the viewer to see multiple themes and discuss their interpretations of the characters after the show is finished.
“It’s a slice of where all these characters are at this point in time,” Sargent said. “Some characters have hope, some have no hope, some are left wondering.”
Sargent said he was drawn to the show after playing a part in it when he was a student at Augusta State University in the 1970s.
“It was a fairly new play, and I fell in love with it because of the characters,” he said. “And because I fell in love with the characters, I still wonder what may have become of them.”
The play has moments of comedy and drama, and Sargent said he’s unsure if he would classify it as a comedic drama or a dramatic comedy. He said that may also be left up to the interpretation of the audience and where they feel the characters will go after the play ends.
Sargent said the part that probably is most central to the play is the character known simply as “Girl.” He sought to fill the part specifically from Anna Leigh Howington after she played a part in “Steel Magnolias” and most recently in LSPA’s “All Shook Up.”
The character, one of three prostitutes at the hotel, changes her name constantly, thus being dubbed simply “Girl.” Howington described the character as doing what she feels she has to in order to get by, and noted the character has a strange obsession with trains and knack for geography.
Melissa Stanley plays April, “a sort of mature prostitute” and somewhat companion to “Girl.” Stanley said the two have an almost familial relationship with each other.
Howington said although “Girl” doesn’t necessarily offer much depth in her lines, there’s more going on that what is obvious on the surface.
“She’s a very different character to play,” Howington said. “I think she’s very schizophrenic — all over the place … there’s more to the character than any other role I’ve ever had.”
Stanley described “Girl” as being sort of the innocent voice in the play, despite her choice of profession.
The two thought about the backstories and motivations of their characters when determining how to portray them for the show. Even though there were aspects they came up with about their characters that aren’t explored on stage, the two used their ideas to inform the way they played the characters to convey more depth.
“You have to bring the characters to life through movements and dress, and how you react with other people,” Stanley said. “You can see their hurts, and feel through the way they react to other people.”
The ensemble includes both longtime players and several newcomers to the stage.
“I love the cast, they’re just all good folks,” Sargent said. “We have a diversity of age, with actors ranging from 14 to into their 60s. The individuals in the cast also represent a diverse array … of backgrounds (and) levels of experiences.”
Joe Dimon is performing onstage for the first time, and will be joined by his wife, Tricia Dimon, and her daughter, Sage Browning, who has worked behind the scenes but is performing onstage with the LSPA for the first time.
Joe Dimon plays grumpy septuagenarian Mr. Morse, a constant complainer. Tricia Dimon plays Suzy, an erratic, and often intoxicated, prostitute. Browning plays Jackie, controlling and loud sister to the simple and passive Jamie, played by Mick Province.
Tricia Dimon said being in a stage play was on her husband’s “bucket list,” and they decided to make it a family affair. Browning said working with family allowed them to practice together and spend more time together.
“The family that plays together, stays together,” Tricia Dimon said. “We just took that literally.”
Also sharing the stage are mother and son Janet and Lewis Powell. Although Janet Powell has worked behind the scenes as a costumer for many LSPA plays, “The Hot l Baltimore” will be her first time on stage. Her character, Mrs. Belotti, will be antagonized by her son’s character, the short-tempered hotel manager Mr. Katz.
Janet Powell described her character as a neurotic woman trying to keep her “nutty son” from being kicked out of the hotel. Lewis Powell said Katz “would rather be somewhere else,” ready to leave behind the hotel and just move on despite the fate of its tenants.
“He gets to yell at me,” Janet Powell said of her onstage interactions with her son.
“I feel sorry for her, personally,” Lewis Powell added. “But my character doesn’t. He treats her badly.”
Lafayette Society for Performing Arts presents “The Hot l Baltimore,” Thursday through Saturday, and Feb. 15 and Feb. 16 at 7:30 p.m., and Feb. 17 at 2:30 p.m. at the LSPA Black Box Theater, 214 Bull St. Attendees may bring their own fare and beverages for each night’s dinner theater. Tickets are available at the theater or by contacting LSPA at email@example.com or 706-882-9909.