I was grateful to be one of the 24 people inside the below-ground Axis Theater during the new play “Worlds Fair Inn.” There were 16 members of the audience (masked and socially distanced), two ushers, five cast members, and a medic.
We were back Off-Broadway!
My gratitude embraced those living, breathing actors indoors….and the designers….and the props…and, ok, maybe my embrace was not quite as warm for the script.
Written by Axis artistic director Randy Sharp, the play presents three men in bowler hats who decide to open up a hotel to serve the nearby Worlds Fair. Their aim is not hospitality but homicide, a deadly science project: They kill the first two hotel guests, a man and a woman, in order to recombine them into a new human being.
On the Axis website, the play is said to be “inspired” by three men: J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967), the father of the atomic bomb, American serial killer H. H. Holmes (1861-1896), and “fictional scientist Victor Frankenstein.” The Frankenstein connection is evident enough, and I suppose there is an oblique allusion to Oppenheimer in the too-obvious comment on the need for moral reckoning in science. I had to look up H.H. Holmes, who confessed to 27 murders, his victims killed in a building he owned that was reportedly intended as a hotel (but never opened as one) located about three miles from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.
An attentive literary detective might spot references to T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men” and the fire at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, and maybe even Hiroshima. But the key words in the website description turn out to be “absurdist comedy” and an “impressionist explosion.” In retrospect, these struck me as code for derivative and thin.
Still, at only 45 minutes long, “Worlds Fair Inn” is not painful. The script is a price worth paying for being back Off-Broadway. As slight as it is, it even managed to trigger lovely memories of such superior pieces as “Waiting for Godot” and “Sweeney Todd.” And the production, directed by Sharp, features a game cast, and welcome stage design. Paul Carbonara’s original music and sound design stand out. Everything about Sharp’s set, Karl Ruckdeschel’s costumes and Lynn Mancinelli’s props — red whiskey bottles. A neon sign! A workable crank! – palpably drive home how wonderful it is to return to three dimensions.
Worlds Fair Inn
through June 19
running time: 45 minutes
written, directed and set designed by Randy Sharp
stage manager: Regina Betancourt
asst. stage manager: Erik Savage
light designer: David Zeffren
asst. light designer: Alena Thomas
costume designer: Karl Ruckdeschel
sound designer/original music: Paul Carbonara
prop design/construction: Lynn Mancinelli
Cast: Brian Barnhart, George Demas, Britt Genelin, Jon McCormick, Edgar Oliver