The Upstairs Concierge

Goodman Theatre, Chicago

Written by:
Nancy S. Bishop
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Todd Rosenthal’s set design for The Hotelman Arms hotel in “The Upstairs Concierge” is quite handsome, done in Prairie Style with Frank Lloyd Wright-type stained glass window panels, faux oak staircases, moldings, cabinetry and doors. Even the typography of the “Your New Family Home” motto signage is an arts and crafts font.

The multiple doors and staircases are clues that this is not going to be a drama that would have attracted Frank Lloyd Wright, however. They’re signs of a farce to come, as we learned from those witty French farces by Georges Feydeau.

Unfortunately, Goodman Theatre’s new world premiere of Kristoffer Diaz’s “The Upstairs Concierge” is not a witty French farce. Its celebrity- and baseball-driven plotline just doesn’t work as a contemporary comic romp. The plot generally is a mish-mash and the dialogue is flat and rarely funny.

Diaz, known for his award-winning “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” (produced in 2009 at Victory Gardens Theater), says he was inspired by working at a boutique luxury hotel that catered to celebrities. He decided that writing a spoof on our celebrity culture and setting it in a small, confined space would allow for ridiculous physical comedy. Since the play was developed over several years of workshopping and productions with several companies, it’s hard to understand why no one noticed that something was amiss with the material itself.

The theme involves the arrival of an ace female baseball player (Alejandra Escalante as Rebecca Oaxaca) at the hotel, where she is chased by representatives of major league baseball teams who want to hire the first female MLB player. (For some reason, the playwright identifies her as a bunter, but that would not be good baseball strategy for reasons that I’m not going to describe in a theater review.)

Other celebrity guests are BB, a blogger (energetically played by Jose Antonio Garcia), and Shivery Delicious, a well-known novelist (Sandra Delgado). Starring as Ella Elizondo, the upstairs concierge who aims to please, is Tawny Newsome. The rest of the cast is hotel employees and baseball team reps.

The 10 cast members give it their all and director K.J. Sanchez, along with a movement consultant (Chuck Coyl) and a movement captain (cast member Gabriel Ruiz) choreograph the madness effectively. The timing and agility of every cast member is notable. Too bad they didn’t have better material to work with.

The opening night audience found a number of lines and pratfalls to laugh at, so some prospective audience members may find this 80-minute comedy just the ticket for chasing the gloom away or topping off a hectic workday. I thought it was one night of my life that I’ll never get back.

 Previously posted at gapersblock.com.

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