Theater review: ‘Motel’ makes for an intense (and adult-rated) experience

Intimate show: Motel is about sex, and extreme emotional territory.
Jacob Coakley

Four stars

Motel Through March 28; Thursday-Saturday, 8 & 9:30 p.m. Gateway Motel, 928 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 702-423-6366.

Troy Heard’s latest experiment in theater, Motel, is not for the squeamish. Modeled after Schnitzler’s La Ronde (censored for years), Motel tells the interlocking stories of six people as they move from room to room at the Gateway Motel, searching for some extreme sexual relief and an ineffable connection to others. While Schnitzler directed the action of his play before or after his pairs had sex, the sex is front and center in Motel. There’s partial nudity, both male and female, and simulated sex of all varieties. You have to sign a waiver. Those under 18 will not be admitted. Stay behind the yellow line. Bring hand sanitizer.

This is a show that goes full throttle from the start. The short scenes (none lasts more than 10 minutes) take place simultaneously, and different audience groups start at different points. My viewing began with an encounter between a Prostitute (Alexandria Lee) and a Preacher (Bob Gratrix) heavy into BDSM, and included whipping and a pig mask. Similarly extreme couplings happen throughout. There’s a definite sense of discomfort in the audience throughout the evening. There’s not a lot of physical distance between audience and actors, and this aggressive proximity means it’s hard to get any kind of emotional remove either, and these encounters visit extreme emotional territory. Sometimes the emotions feel earned, sometimes they feel like melodrama, but there’s no way to escape them when they’re happening.

In an analysis that might betray my hetero-privilege, the scenes surrounding a male/female married couple were the most fully realized of the characters’ inner lives and how their search for sexual engagement impacted them—perhaps because their short scenes weren’t so interested in shocking, and explored the emotional lives surrounding the sex. Mick Axelrod’s “Tourist Husband” and Natalie Senecal’s “Tourist Wife” were funny and poignant as they danced around how (and even whether) to talk about what they were doing. Senecal’s Wife’s tryst with the Artist (Amanda Morgan) was also funny and real. As the Artist, Morgan’s confusion (and disappointment) resulting from her unspoken expectations and hopes from the dalliance was affecting.

All the scenes were developed and written by the people acting in them—including, in addition to those above, Joe Basso—and even if some scenes didn’t paint a complete picture, co-directors Troy Heard and Amanda Morgan still shaped them enough to chart a course through extreme emotional territory with honesty and courage. This is not a show for the faint of heart to perform or to experience. But it’s a radical example of what live theater can be.

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