They’re works of art in and of themselves: The masks that the actors wear in “Hotel Paradiso,” which is being presented as part of the Peak Performances series at Montclair State University’s Kasser Theater, through May 8. Created by Thomas Rascher and Hajo Schüler, they’re not realistic but still seem deeply human: Their eyes peer out into the audience quizzically, inviting the audience to wonder about what is going on in the minds behind them.
These masks have nothing to do with the pandemic. Members of the Berlin-based Familie Flöz theater company have been using face coverings like these for decades. Formed in the ’90s, Familie Flöz has presented shows in more than 40 countries, though this is its first production in the United States. The run was originally planned for May 2020, but the U.S. debut had to be postponed, for obvious reasons.
“Hotel Paradiso,” directed by Michael Vogel, is set in a run-down, family-owned hotel where the staff ranges from barely competent to downright criminal and the clients are often equally eccentric and/or suspicious. Four actors — Marina Rodriguez Llorente, Sebastian Kautz, Daniel Matheus and Thomas Rascher — each play multiple characters, coming and going in the hotel’s busy lobby. Among them is a cook who seems to spend most of his time disposing of bodies, and a maid who routinely steals from the hotel’s guests.
The actors don’t speak, which leads to a few puzzling moments, where it is hard to figure out what is going on. But most of the time, it’s easy enough to follow along. Some of what happens at the hotel is dark and mysterious. But much of “Hotel Paradiso” is pure slapstick.
Ultimately, though, there isn’t much of a story here (or, at least, there wasn’t one that I was able to decipher). The entertainment value of “Hotel Paradiso” derives mostly from its wonderful masks, of course, and also from some fun, deftly executed segments that really would be just as entertaining isolated from the rest of the show. In one, the elderly matriarch of the family that runs the hotel climbs onto a chair to do some dusting. In another, two bumbling policemen fail to catch the thief they’re pursuing when he hides in a rolled-up rug — which the policemen keep gingerly stepping over. (You can see portions of these segments, and more, in the video below.)
As a nice little bonus, the actors play an instrumental song after taking their bows, forming a makeshift band with an accordion, a spoon and bells.
Peak Performances specializes in innovative works in various genres. “Hotel Paradiso” is lighter in tone than most of the shows that have been presented in this series over the years, but is just as unique, creating its own world, with its own set of artistic rules.
Remaining performances of “Hotel Paradiso” take place at the Kasser Theater at Montclair State University, May 6 at 7:30 p.m., May 7 at 8 p.m. and May 8 at 3 p.m. Visit peakperfs.org.
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