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Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012

Pink Banana Harvests Dark Comedy in ‘Hothouse’

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On your way into the theater, you sign in, receive a patient ID number and have your hand stamped by a charming man with a British accent. The man’s name is Lamb (played by Harry Loeffler-Bell). Lamb is an energetic, enterprising young man given a menial job at an institution. And since this is Harold Pinter's The Hothouse, the situation isn’t likely to end well for him. And since this is Pink Banana Theatre's production of the dark comic drama, it is thoroughly entertaining to watch the lives of Lamb and a few others play out in a studio theater environment.

The dark comedy of bureaucracy is executed quite well. The play concerns the affairs of a government institution run by an aging man named Roote, played a bit leadenly by Jim Huston. The mental sluggishness of the character is served by a slow, guileless performance, but the strength and authority of the character are lost.

Considering the overall caliber of the ensemble, Huston's lack of intensity is a relatively minor concern. Tim Palecek is electrifying in the role of assistant Gibbs. Rob Maass renders a characteristically dark and cunning performance as a brash, manipulative associate named Lush. Ellen Dunphy manages the intricate challenge of playing cool and sensual desperation in the role of an assistant named Cutts. When we first meet Cutts, she is disinterestedly doing a crossword puzzle as an eager Lamb excitedly speaks to her. The concerns of Lamb, easily the most sympathetic character in the cast, are made all the more crushing by Loeffler-Bell’s irresistibly charming performance.

Pink Banana Theatre's production of The Hothouse runs through Nov. 17 at the Arcade Theatre, 161 W. Wisconsin Ave. For ticket reservations, visit pinkbananatheater.com.