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stage dive

Theater Review: The Inside-Out Audience Experience at Hotel Savoy

Miffed that Kubrick never cast you in anything? Looking forward to next year at Marienbad? Tired of the Living, with their relatively straightforward answers to basic questions? Check in to Hotel Savoy, a brief, unsettling theatrical phantasm custom-designed for an audience of You. Designed by theater architect Dominic Huber, Savoy is, at heart, an old-fashioned haunted house, reimagined by punctilious German aesthetes and aimed at people who normally prefer art installations to Jaycees in rubber masks.

I don't want to give anything away, on the off chance that you squeeze in — though that seems unlikely, unless you've got an in at P.S. 122 or the Goethe Institut, the German cultural center whose six-story converted townhouse opposite the Metropolitan Museum of Art is both the backdrop and the main character. The show is based, in part, on a Joseph Roth novel of the same name, which I haven't read. (This detracted not a whit from the experience, and I'm guessing there's no strong literal connection at all.) I'll just tell you this much: You enter, you're directed to your room, and things begin to happen — or not happen, as the case may be. Unnerving sounds phase through the walls, shoes in front of closed doors provide spooky clues about the occupants, and everyone seems vaguely disappointed in you. (Thanksgiving, not Halloween, is the scary holiday Savoy conjures up, at least for me.) There are at least three kinds of uncanny displacement at work: (1) The actor's-nightmare strangeness of being onstage and not knowing your lines. (2) The corner-of-your-eye animal fear of being alone (and yet not alone) in a shadowy old Upper East Side pile. And (3) the terror that you're somehow screwing up the precisely tuned German engineering that shapes all ends in Huber's theater-verse.

Is this Death? What's on the sixth floor? Who is Bloomfield? Do we all go to nondenominational heaven at the end, disappointing our fans? Don't look for answers, or catharsis, or a backwards-talking midget with all the answers. The more you expect, the less you'll likely enjoy the experience. I'd recommend simply wandering until they come for you. And don't worry, they'll come for you. They always come for you.

Photo: Paula Reissig