“The Gorges Motel” is a collection of nine sketches and vignettes, each written by one of six established playwrights, that all take place on the same day in a (presumably fictional) run-down motel in the (actual) village of Watkins Glen in upstate New York.
Such collective theater projects are almost inevitably uneven, but at its best, the play offers some quirky laughs and some touching oddness.
“Missing” by James Hindman is in three parts, and it both begins and ends the evening. It focuses on Virginia (Cynthia Mace) the proprietor of the motel, and one of the guests, Robert (Dustin Charles.) Virginia assumes that Robert is in town to visit the 400-foot-deep gorge in nearby Watkins Glen State Park. But Robert, a hometown boy, is actually returning home to climb out of a deeper albeit metaphorical hole, one left by his estrangement from his family. The second of the three parts of “Missing,” which occurs midway through the show, is his meeting with his sister, the most affecting scene in the play.
Lynne Halliday expands on Virginia’s story in “Second Chance,” in which she too is estranged from her family, although the reasons are not spelled out as clearly. She pleads with (apparently) her daughter-in-law to allow her to see her grandchildren, the children of her dead son.
Virginia’s assumption that people come to her motel to visit the gorge is wishful thinking; the gorge no longer attracts many tourists, and the motel is struggling. But on this particular day, the motel is packed, because of a wedding planned for its grounds. Four of the pieces focus on members of the wedding party. Lynn Halliday’s “Reverend” introduces us to the minister who will be officiating at the wedding, who turns out to be a recent prison inmate who got his ministerial certification over the mail. In Isaac Himmelman’s “What Lola Saw” (the least satisfying of the sketches), Lola hallucinates or dreams of her dead husband (there are hints he might have been killed by a hit man.) Her niece interprets the dream or hallucination as a sign that they should tell the couple to call off the wedding. The funniest piece is “Kissing Cousins” by Craig Pospisil, in which two sisters discovered that they both slept with the groom – one 15 years ago, one last week — after which he cried for 20 minutes and yelled “Mommy”….both times. This is amusing primarily because of the spot-on reactions by Amanda Sykes, who I consider a discovery — she plays four characters in “The Gorges Motel” who are so different that I at first didn’t recognize it was the same actress portraying all of them.
The most extensive and surreal piece, by Arlene Hutton, starts with the bride sitting in shock, her wedding dress covered in blood. I shouldn’t spoil what happened, except that the title more or less gives it away — “Here Comes The Drone.”
In “Breckinridge” by Gretchen Cryer, a plumber (Brian Sheridan) and a motel resident whose plumbing he’s fixing (Ilene Kristn) commiserate with one another over their respective failed relationships and betrayals. It feels both more self-contained and more detached from the other pieces.
Indeed, few of the pieces in “The Gorges Motel” seem initially to fit naturally into a single work, but the final “Missing” suggests that all the playwrights were guided by the metaphorical possibilities of the location — establishing an analogy between the natural wonder of the Watkins Glen gorge and the mystery of human connection. Virginia gives a brief lecture on the local landmark, wondering how long it took the glacier to cut through the earth, leaving both “majestic towers of rock” and a deep gap that will take a long time to “heal.”