Kristoffer Diaz’ ‘Upstairs Concierge’ works at a one-star hotel
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It was in 2009 that “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Diety” burst onto the stage of Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theatre and launched the career of a young playwright by the name of Kristoffer Diaz. The play, which received Jeff Awards for best production and best new work, went on to have an acclaimed Off Broadway production, earning a much-deserved nomination for a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and winning both a Lucille Lortel Award and Obie Award.
Watching Diaz’s “The Upstairs Concierge,” which received its world premiere Monday on the stage of the Goodman’s Owen Theatre (and was “in development” by the theater over several years), it was difficult to believe this was the work of the same playwright. This would-be farce — a lame attempt at satirizing the cult of celebrity, and those who cater to that cult’s whims — is an unmitigated mess salvaged (just barely) by the physical fleetness of its cast.
To be sure, the show, directed with by KJ Sanchez with a heavy-handedness that matches the writing, provides a ferocious cardio workout for its actors (particularly Tawny Newsome, in the role of the title character, who endures a major stair-climbing challenge). By the end of the run they all will either be in great physical shape or suffering from tendonitis. The audience will receive no benefits.
‘THE UPSTAIRS CONCIERGE’
When: Through April 26
Where: Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn
Tickets: $10 – $40
Info: (312) 443-3800; www.GoodmanTheatre.org
Run time: 80 minutes with no intermission
The premise? A Chicago hotel that hopes to become “the hottest VIP destination” — and whose motto is “Your New Family Home” — is about to welcome three celebrity guests whose identity must be kept under wraps. (In one of the rare missteps of his long and distinguished career, set designer Todd Rosenthal has devised the frumpiest of hotels, with circa 1970s decor.)
Responsible for catering to these guests’ every whim is Ella Elizondo (Newsome), the newly hired concierge who arranges for gift baskets, special services and the utmost discretion for the three suites reached via steep staircases (no elevator?). The rooms are notable for the fact that their Tiffany-style glass doors can remain lock-free — a selling point of Ella’s bosses, Jeffrey and Dia Hotelman (played by Cedric Young and Mia Park). The ever-distracted acrobatic hotel bellmen are Harvey (Gabriel Ruiz) and Kaz (John Stokvis).
The celebrities? One goes by the name Rebecca Oaxaca (Alejandra Escalante), a young woman whose video as a baseball bunter has gone viral to the point where she is now being pursued as the first woman to be recruited for a Major League team. Another, who goes by the name of Shivery Delicious (Sandra Delgado), is a novelist renowned for her steamy bedroom exploits. A third, BB (Jose Antonio Garcia), is the force behind Pretty Blog, whose site can be accessed only by the most elite celebrities themselves. (By the way, all three guests arrive with luggage that might have been found at a discount store.)
Of course nothing goes as planned, the guests are even more eccentric than expected, and chaos abounds. The problem is that there is not one witty line in the entire 80-minute play. Delgado goes the distance in a densely plotted charade complete with Martha Graham-like red scarves to serve as blood. Escalante has an energetic wiggle as she mounts the stairs. Theo Allyn appears (in drag, of sorts) as a scout for the Yankees. Travis Turner is another wannabe baseball scout.
Newsome, a gifted Second City veteran (who was terrific in that company’s collaboration with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s “The Art of Falling”), gives her all, and then some. But there is no “there there” in this vacuous, unfunny play.
All in all, if you are looking for a truly wonderful farce about the life of a concierge, head to Netflix and watch Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”