Talking hotels, coyotes morphing into seductive, queer bearded men, grandmothers drifting away on glaciers: just a few of the surreal scenes from HOLIDAYS IN / COYOTE, a play directed by Jess Chayes and written by Adam R. Burnett in collaboration with the cast and crew. The play was presented by The Tank as part of this year’s Exponential Festival - an extensive, annual nonprofit presenting performance throughout Brooklyn and Manhattan during the month of January. I ventured out to the city on a blistering cold evening to see the production during it’s week-long run (Jan 14th - 20th).
Experimental theatre not being my forte, I was grateful for the ease with which I was able to access the play’s narrative. The Tank, a non-profit focusing on providing space for emerging artists of all disciplines, sets the audience up on 3 sides of the stage with rows of elevated seating. Despite the unfriendly weather, the room was packed.
Set in a Holiday Inn Holidome (described as “a brand of the franchise that proliferated the United States in the 1970’s & 80’s as a resort-like setting for the middle class”) in Topeka, Kansas, HOLIDAYS IN / COYOTE revolves around a cast of characters who have either come to stay or work at the hotel. There’s the family on vacation from their home six blocks away (played by Sam Gonzalez), The Official Fellow presenting at a conference advocating for the killing of coyotes for better access to desert oil (Richard Thieriot), The Unofficial Fellow, your seemingly typical local bar frequenter (Kate Schroeder), the Arcade Kid (Manny Rivera), Housekeeper (lisa nevada, also the play’s choreographer) and Front of Desk (Lanxing Fu).
The hotels’ rooms are characters as well, with the actors switching between roles on the spot. The funniest reincarnation was possibly The Pool, portrayed by Ben Beckley in a video that played on five different monitors at the back of the stage, as a head floating in water in goggles and a swim cap. The Pool as a dude just chilling.
“Yes, a talking hotel,” Schroeder introduces herself as The Hotel to laughter from the audience. The Hotel soaks up the history surrounding it and that of its rooms and occupants’ like a sponge. The Official Fellow gives a persuasive monologue at The Convention Hall on the importance of drilling oil for preserving the future of the county, and for “the kids”. The screens of the monitors behind him change to show The Convention Hall, the room bathed in a warm yellow glow as he speaks on the importance of killing and driving out the coyote, a wild animal that interrupts the drilling process.
Meanwhile upstairs The Son (Gonzalez) experiences the daytime minutiae of a family vacation in a room shared with his mother and grandmother. As night descends the events in the hotel begin to take on a strange appearance. In the hotel bar, The Unofficial and The Official Fellow make casual acquaintance. The chemistry between them is palpable and soon the conversation turns flirtatious. We know The Official Fellow’s deal: he’s here lobbying to kill the coyote. The Unofficial Fellow is more of an enigma, as is The Official Fellow’s obvious, blundering attraction to him.
The story comes to a climax when The Son, walking from a romantic liaison of his own, comes upon The Official Fellow in an ecstatic embrace with a coyote. The Coyote looks up at The Son and the two worlds merge, only to recede back into each other as the plot progresses. In HOLIDAYS IN / COYOTE reality is tilted on its axis in a collision of moments that exist parallel but do not touch - the past, present and future, all held by the walls of one hotel. Back in the hotel room The Son finds himself somehow altered by what he saw in The Coyote. He puts on his mother’s dress, a shiver runs down his spine, he feels a breaching vulnerability. As the sun rises his mother and grandmother wake up, and he is wrapped in an embrace. A large glacier appears outside their window. The Son and the mother watch as the grandmother steps out onto the balcony and is taken by a force beyond anyone’s control.
Downstairs, the glacier presses down on The Official Fellow as he greets the sun from the dark coolness of the bar and the fogginess of last night’s seduction. What exactly happened and more importantly: was it real? He blinks and then is gone, crushed, carried away. Becoming a part of history he worked so hard to eradicate.
Throughout the play the narration kept returning back to a local Indian myth, an explanation for why the town the story is set in was named Topeka. The cast of characters represents people of all walks of life brought together by this one thing: a commercial enterprise, a hotel. From an advocate for big oil to a working class teenager realizing the fluidity of their gender to a wild animal taking on a human appearance, everyone meets at the epicenter of our capitalist nation, at the slow erasure of culture and the unofficial restructuring of America. HOLIDAYS IN / COYOTE seemed to remind us that the powers-that-be may find their most fearful opponents in the very things they deem irrelevant.
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ABOUT PIA CORRESPONDENT // Polina Riabova is a Russian-born bilingual poet and writer and co-founder of an independent cooperative record label based in Brooklyn, Borrowed Birds Records. In her performance work she explores the intersection between public and private life and the influence it exerts on our understanding of ourselves and others as well as the complexity of interpersonal relationships and themes of vulnerability using a mix of found objects, visuals and sound.
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Sarah G. Sharp