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Motel California

By Anna Ditkoff | Posted 10/24/2001

Motel California

Richard Harrington and Chris Kauffman

An esoteric and thoroughly bizarre comedy, Richard Harrington and Chris Kauffman's Motel California is an entertaining if brief evening at the theater. The 55-minute play tells the story of Gustave Flaubert (Harrington), a no-relation-to-the-writer Belgian man with an incredibly thick accent who hears the Eagles' song "Hotel California" on a trip to Nepal and decides he must become what he calls a "soldier freelance" in Colombia. After spending some quality time killing people, he hears the song again, and the disembodied voice of Don Henley tells him to stop killing people and start a cabaret act. Which he does, with the help of his Harpo-on-quaaludes assistant Nhar (Kauffman).

But all of this is really neither here nor there. Motel California's plot doesn't matter. What matters is the way in which the play displays Harrington and Kauffman's odd sense of humor and admirable acting chops. The pair met in a workshop in 1997 and put together this two-man show, originally titled Hotel California--they changed the name for legal reasons--performing it at theaters from New York to Prague, on the Canadian fringe-festival circuit, and this past spring at HBO's U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colo. Both actors have an impressive list of credentials, including theatrical, dance, and clowning training from institutions around the world. Their study shows in this funny yet understated play, precisely because the plot doesn't matter.

The actors have created two totally inexplicable characters who could probably stand on stage brushing their hair for 20 minutes and make you laugh. Baltimore native Kauffman occasionally holds a paper plate over his head and sings "Blue Moon" in a voice that sounds like he just gargled broken glass; elsewhere he pantomimes various actions that sometimes have to do with the play--and sometimes don't. Harrington gives an intentionally stiff, deadpan performance as the thoroughly humorless yet impressionable Gustave, singing awkwardly upbeat songs about growing up in Belgium or killing people while playing a tiny accordion. And when the two dance . . . well, it may not sound very funny, but it really is. Motel California will leave you laughing even as it has you scratching your head.

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