By Tulis McCall

There is a pattern that pops up from time in all of our lives.  An event or a thing or a person is pronounced “swell”.  Occasionally we concur with the pronouncement, and occasionally we do not.

The experience of watching “Grief Hotel,” a Clubbed Thumb production in partnership with New Georges Residency at the Public Theater, falls into the latter category.  This is a story about people talking to one another or about one another.  They are not communicating, but this does not stop them from talking.  Aunt Bobbi (Susan Blommaert) appears to be the anchor of the group.  She has a house on a lake where she lives full time since someone burned down her entire condo complex.  Where this is exactly we never find out, but it smacks of somewhere in a flyover state  – perhaps a small college town.

Bobbi has an idea – which is the Grief Hotel.  Everyone has something to grieve so why not give them a proper, and bespoken, place in which to do it.  As the tale unfolds we see that everyone does indeed have some pain or sadness that can use addressing.  Winn (Ana Nogueira) is in a tepid relationship with Teresa (Susannah Perkins).  She has decided to branch out with a heterosexual older guy Asher (Bruce McKenzie) who is a former singing star.  Asher is also branching out from his tepid marriage and intrigued by Winn’s bi-sexual choices.  Winn is also the former lover of Em (Nadine Malouf) who has resurface with news of the disappearance of a high school friend.  Em rounds out the topi relationship department in her relationship with Rohit (Naren Weiss).  Rohit is a guy who seems to be leaking life while you watch.

If you have not been able to keep track of all of these relationships it doesn’t matter much.  Everything on this stark set moves along with the speed of a sleepy bear just rolling out of a long hibernation.  The one driving force onto who we can latch is Em, who has the energy of a jackhammer and does onto understand why no on can keep up with her.  She flings herself into life and lives in a constant state of astonishment that she is who and where she is and that the people surrounding her don’t seem to be on her wavelength.

The story wanders from person to person with no great urgency.  And this may be exactly what Liza Birkenmeier had in mind.  Most plays are not at all like life – they remind us of life.  Plays are (As John Patrick Shanley knows) parables.  The spin yarns amid tell tales that point us in one direction or another.  And on those paths we may find pieces of our own lives laid out for our perusal.

In “Grief Hotel” – which has some snappy directorial elements from Tara Ahmadinejad – I was, for the most part, feeling like the kid in the back seat bleating, “Are we there yet?” Even with the play’s conclusion I got no sense of completion.  It was more of a rest stop where the passengers were allowed to leave the bus and seek other transportation.

I hasten to add that I was definitely in the minority.  The audience cheered, and many stood up to magnify their approval. This play is already an Obie winner and will no doubt sell out.  Good for them. That is the magic of theatre.  For as many people in the audience – that is how many performances are actually occurring.  It only seats one between our ears, and what you see is unique to you.

While I may not have been wowed, I can tell you that there is an entire community of people who worked with precision and grace to bring it to fruition.  That work is always to be cherished and respected.

GRIEF HOTEL by Liza Birkenmeier and directed by Tara Ahmadinejad

WITH Nadine Malouf, Ana Nogueira, Naren Weiss, Susannah Perkins, Susan Blommaert, and Bruce McKenzie

Scenic design by dots, costume design by Mel Ng, lighting design by Masha Tsimring, and sound design & composition by Jordan McCree.

At The Public Theater.  Through April 27. Performances will run Monday through Friday at 7:30pm and Saturday at 3:00pm and 7:30pm. Tickets are $65.  Purchase HERE.