Off-Broadway's Signature Theater has just debuted a new production of "The Wayside Motor Inn," a 1977 work from prolific veteran playwright A.R. Gurney. Time Out New York's David Cote filed the following report for NY1.
There must be nearly as many plays set in hotels as in dysfunctional households. And that's no surprise. Hotels bring built-in drama: illicit affairs, people on the run, crime or perhaps husbands thrown out. Veteran playwright A.R. Gurney knows that, and he quintuples the dramatic possibilities in his ingenious 1977 play, "The Wayside Motor Inn." In this feat of technical writing, he crams 10 characters into the same room, sort of.
I say sort of because the idea is that five separate parties check in around the same time, but in different rooms. Gurney’s structural conceit is to have all five story lines, plus appearances from a mouthy maid, co-exist in the same space, letting natural pauses in conversation be filled by other characters' dialogue.
Director Lila Neugebauer and her cast have to keep the energy of the scenes flowing and characters plausibly moving about the space without colliding. If such a stunt works, it's an operatic fugue of the human condition. And boy, does this work wonderfully. The ensemble is excellent – Mark Kudisch, Jenn Lyon, Jon DeVries, Kelly AuCoin, Rebecca Henderson and Ismenia Mendes are just a few of them - and of course, Gurney is a first-rate writer of bittersweet, well-observed banter.
The stories themselves might not be terribly original in isolation — there's an older couple getting on each other's nerves, an overbearing father pushing his son to attend Harvard, a young and nervous couple fumbling toward a night of romance, and so forth. But the contrast and intercutting among disparate lives creates marvelous sympathetic resonance.
You come away from this rich, satisfying revival thinking that motel rooms often all look alike, but every occupant has a unique story.