Masks are mandatory, on stage, as Familie Flöz makes its American premiere in Montclair with ‘Hotel Paradiso’
They’re works of art in themselves: the masks the actors wear in “Hotel Paradiso,” which runs as part of the Peak Performances series at Montclair State University’s Kasser Theater until August 8. may. Created by Thomas Rascher and Hajo Schüler, they are unrealistic but still seem deeply human: their eyes stare quizzically at the audience, inviting the audience to wonder what is going on in the mind behind them.
These masks have nothing to do with the pandemic. Members of the Berlin-based Familie Flöz theater company have been using face coverings like these for decades. Formed in the 90s, Familie Flöz have performed in over 40 countries, although this is their first production in the United States. The race was originally scheduled for May 2020, but the US debut had to be postponed, for obvious reasons.
“Hotel Paradiso,” directed by Michael Vogel, is set in a run-down family hotel where the staff range from barely competent to downright criminal and the guests are often just as eccentric and/or suspicious. Four actors — Marina Rodriguez Llorente, Sebastian Kautz, Daniel Matheus, and Thomas Rascher — each play multiple characters, pacing back and forth in the hotel’s busy lobby. Among them are a cook who seems to spend most of his time disposing of bodies and a maid who regularly robs hotel guests.
The actors don’t talk, which leads to a few confusing moments, where it’s hard to figure out what’s going on. But most of the time it’s pretty easy to follow. Some of what happens at the hotel is dark and mysterious. But much of “Hotel Paradiso” is pure slapstick.
Ultimately, however, there isn’t much of a story here (or, at least, there wasn’t one that I could decipher). The entertainment value of “Hotel Paradiso” derives primarily from its wonderful masks, of course, and also from a few amusing, skillfully executed segments that really would be just as entertaining isolated from the rest of the show. In one, the elderly matriarch of the family that runs the hotel climbs onto a chair to dust. In another, two clumsy police officers fail to catch the thief they are pursuing as he hides in a rolled-up carpet – which the officers continue to step over cautiously. (You can see parts of those segments, and more, in the video below.)
A cool little bonus, the actors play an instrumental song after bowing out, forming a makeshift orchestra with an accordion, spoon and bells.
Peak Performances specializes in innovative works of various genres. “Hotel Paradiso” has a lighter tone than most shows presented in this series over the years, but is equally unique, creating its own world, with its own set of artistic rules.
The remaining performances of “Hotel Paradiso” will take place at the Kasser Theater at Montclair State University on May 6 at 7:30 p.m., May 7 at 8 p.m. and May 8 at 3 p.m. Visit peakperfs.org.
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