The Hallway Trilogy consists of three separate plays, Rose, Paraffin and Nursing, all set in the hallway of the same New York City tenement building, but taking place over the course of a 100 year period. Rose is set in 1953, on the day after the death of Eugene O'Neill; Paraffin on the first night of the 2003 blackout, and Nursing in 2053 in a disease-free New York. The three plays are billed as a "trilogy," but that term is used rather loosely. Although all three of the plays are set in the same place, that doesn't provide anywhere near the unifying force that a true trilogy requires; if each of the plays had been set in a different building, nothing would have been lost. And underscoring this lack of unification is the fact that characters in one play do not appear in another; indeed, there is no evident relationship between the characters in one play and those in any other.
In Rose, we meet the denizens of a Manhattan tenement building in 1953 and a few other questionable neighborhood characters. The plot revolves around the title character (Katherine Waterston), a fading ingénue who almost snared the starring role in a Eugene O'Neill play. Failing to get it tipped her over the edge and, on the day following O'Neill's death, she has embarked on an odd quest to find him, convinced that he is still alive.
It is that quest which has brought her to a building whose superintendant, also named Eugene O'Neill (Guy Boyd), may or may not be the playwright himself. Rose is rife with other plots and sub-plots, along with a whole menagerie of characters, all immensely entertaining. Mary (Julianne Nicholson), a young promiscuous socialite who provides superintendant O'Neill with sexual favors in exchange for the rent, shares an apartment with her sister Megan (Sarah Lemp), a more proper English teacher. Another apartment is occupied by Orest (William Apps), a Russian immigrant, and his enormously obese mother. Jerry (Louis Cancelmi), a Princeton graduate, lives two doors down.
Meanwhile, Marbles (Nick Lawson), a somewhat mysterious busker-clown, somersaults his way onstage, appears, disappears, reappears, loses his marbles, vaults railings, vanishes through an open window and down a fire escape, and generally infuses the play with sinister and antic uncertainty. When Louis Zap (Danny Mastrogiorgio), a dapper Mafiosi, arrives on the scene, the plot thickens further. It is evident that Louis has some financial interest in the building, some relationship to the building superintendent, and some relationship to Marbles as well.
The play concludes with the arrival of Richard B. (Logan Marshall-Green) who, in searching for Rose, provides a logically consistent, albeit highly implausible, explanation of the events we have witnessed. Because of its clever and original plot device, Rose is the most successful of the three plays. It is also the least dependent upon shocking the audience to retain interest.
The second play, Paraffin, takes place 50 years later in the same hallway on the first night of the 2003 blackout. All of the characters who we met in Rose are long gone, so it's difficult to see what the two plays have in common. If Rose were to be rated PG, Paraffin would be rated R, or maybe even NC-17. In terms of sex, nudity, violence and scatological humor, this play has it all – not to its advantage. I wouldn't take my kids to this one and, if you're at all squeamish yourself, I'd suggest you skip it too.
After fifty years, the building is filled with new residents. There is Marty (Guy Boyd), a drag queen, and Lucas (Jeremy Strong), a heterosexual, wheelchair-bound, military casualty of the war in Afghanistan who rents a room in Marty's apartment. Lucas' brother Denny (William Apps), a drug addicted loser, lives with his pregnant wife Margo (Julianne Nicholson) in another apartment down the hall. Kevin (Danny Mastrogiorgio) is the building's new superintendent. Ido (Robert Beitzel) and Rahel (Maria Dizzia) are a young, married Israeli couple. Several other characters who don't live in the building also make an appearance: Margo's friend Dena (Sue Jean Kim), Leshik (Nick Lawson), a Polish messenger and henchman for the mob, and Cory (Stephen Tyrone Williams), Marty's new lover.
When the lights go out all over the city in the 2003 blackout, Rahel is missing and Ido is searching for her; Marty is seizing the opportunity to find a new lover and ultimately returns home with Cory; Danny is being pursued by Leshik who seeks to torture him to death in a manner described in such exquisitely sadistic detail that it would cause Quentin Tarantino to blanch. And Kevin, Lucas, Margo and Dena are assembling over candles and marijuana in the hallway.
Dena proposes a game in which everyone tells what one thing he would change in his life right then and there if he could and the disclosures range from the banal to the startling. Predictably, Kevin would sleep with Dena. But Dena's answer to her own question might come as a bit of a surprise. And so might Margo's. The play's denouement occurs while the four are in the dark, in their state of bliss or denial, shut off from the rest of the world. When the ending comes it is sudden, shocking, and violently theatrical.
The third play, Nursing, is set in 2053 in a disease-free New York, by which time the tenement building has been converted into a museum where individuals are injected with old-fashioned diseases to amuse the public. It is notoriously difficult to write a good science fiction play about some future dystopia – and Rapp doesn't succeed with this one. Of course, he again pulls out all the stops when it comes to sex, nudity, violence and scatological humor.
Lloyd (Logan Marshall-Green) has answered an advertisement to allow himself to be injected and then exhibited so the public might follow the progress of the disease de jour as it ravages his body and brings him close to death. The plan is to allow the disease to advance not quite to the point of killing him, then to cure him and allow him to recover, and then finally start the process over again by injecting him with another disease in the series. Cholera. Black Plague. Whatever.
Lloyd is a sometimes suicidal psychological casualty of the Afghan War who is visited by his brother Joe (Robert Beitzel), his pregnant wife Erin (Sarah Lemp), and a journalist (Jeremy Strong). Both of Lloyd's nurses, Andy (Louis Cancelmi) and Joan (Maria Dizzia), are medically competent, but either or both may have hidden agendas of their own. There is also a museum guard (Stephen Tyrone Williams) and tour guide (Sue Jean Kim). And it is Kim's rendition of Rudyard Kipling's "Cholera Camp" that saved the day for me; I thought she was terrific and her recital was the only thing about this play that I truly enjoyed.
So what happens? Well without going into gory details, there is a preposterous terrorist plot, lots of simulated sexual activity, too much nudity, and excessive violence. In short, take everything I didn't like about Paraffin and double it. And that's it.
Across the three plays, all of the actors turn in first rate performances, the most noteworthy of which are William Apps as Orest and Denny, Guy Boyd as O'Neill and Marty, Nick Lawson as Marbles and Leshik, Julianne Nicholson as Mary and Margo, and Katherine Waterston as Rose. But even their fine performances aren't enough to salvage the final two thirds of this so-called trilogy. Stick with Rose but take a pass on the other two.
(The Hallway Trilogy plays at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 224 Waverly Place, between West 11th and Perry Streets, through March 20, 2011. Performances of Rose are on Tuesdays at 8pm; performances of Paraffin are on Wednesdays at 8pm; and performances of Nursing are on Thursdays at 8pm. All three plays are also performed in repertory on Fridays at 8pm and Saturdays at 4pm and 8pm. Marathon performances of the entire trilogy will be presented on Sundays beginning at 1pm. General admission tickets to any one play are $55 each; a package ticket to the entire trilogy may be purchased for $99. For tickets or more information visit www.smarttix.com or www.rattlestick.org or call 212.868.4444.)