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[whitespace] 'Suburban Motel'
Scared Straight: Drunken hotel manager Phillie (Kirk Adams) and petty crook Stevie (Jacob Gordillo) get a lesson in true crime from a mob boss's daughter, Amanda (Rachel Brown).

Tell-All Motel

Everyday lives are anything but in City Lights' 'Suburban Motel Part 2'

By Heather Zimmerman

AT ANY GIVEN TIME, there are dozens of "stories" staying at the local Motel 6--George F. Walker tells six such tales in his cycle of one-act plays, Suburban Motel. Following up its January production of two plays from the series, City Lights Theater Company presents Suburban Motel Part 2, two more of Walker's slice-of-life one-acts, Criminal Genius and The End of Civilization.

Neither of these tales offer the mundane scenes one might expect from the anonymous surroundings implied by title, and that seems just the point: Every character we witness passing through the same room at a shabby, small-town Canadian motel contributes something to the overall human drama.

In Criminal Genius, the more comic of the two short plays, a father-and-son duo of inept petty criminals becomes the catalyst for a showdown between the stubborn daughter of a crime boss and her murderous father.

Director Lauri Smith plays the minor crooks' foibles--along with those of the drunken hotel manager--for laughs, but she wisely digs a little deeper for the dangerous dynamic between the play's two women, the boss's daughter, Amanda Castle (Rachel Brown), and the boss's henchwoman, Shirley "The Pearl" Katakis (Jennifer Fagundes). Their relationship quickly grows from rivals for power to partners in crime, and the actors don't shrink from the "unladylike" ugliness they discover in their mutual bloodlust to overthrow the boss.

The plot takes a dark and rather cinematic turn toward the ending--which itself is fairly predictable--but the characters are fleshed-out well enough to make Criminal Genius a satisfying tale.

In the same motel room, a middle-class family comes to ruin in the second and even darker play, The End of Civilization, which makes for a bleak but generally compelling character study. During hard times, laid-off worker Henry Cape (Tom Gough) has traveled away from his hometown to look for work, accompanied by his wife, Lily (Rachel Martin).

Their children have been sent to stay with Lily's sister. Henry feels demeaned by his fruitless job hunt and makes a point of showing his rage. Soon after the Capes' arrival in town, several local job seekers are murdered. Henry quickly falls under suspicion, and two homicide detectives regularly visit the Capes' motel room to investigate. Meanwhile, Lily, inspired by a motel neighbor, finds a nontraditional--if age-old--means of ensuring financial stability for her children.

Director Amy Himes keeps the tension high in this emotional family drama, which works especially well in scenes with the explosive Henry. Gough's Henry is perfectly petulant as a man who has, effectively, had the rug pulled out from under him. Although it would have been an obvious choice for Walker to show us Henry as the noble, struggling victim, it's more powerful that we see how pain has transformed him. But the real heart of the tale is Lily, whom Martin portrays with poignant strength and appealing sincerity. Despite her husband's taunts, she is the one who tries to keep the family together.

Martin's and Gough's performances are strong enough that the play's last scene, a flashback to the Capes' arrival at their motel room, actually seems redundant. We already have an idea of what this scene would have been like from watching Henry and Lily throughout the play; there's a sense of history swirling around the characters that Walker and City Lights have made real. It's that lingering sense of personal histories that makes Suburban Motel an absorbing work. If motel walls really could talk, Walker shows us there would be something meaningful in each story because they all make up a bit of the human experience.

Suburban Motel Part 2 plays Thursday-Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 7pm, through March 17 at City Lights Theater, 529 S. Second St., San Jose Tickets are $15-$18. (408.295.4200).

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From the March 8-14, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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