“The Hothouse” Offers Madcap Satire At Its Best At West End Players Guild

Elizabeth Graverman as Miss Cutts, delivers relief to Robert Ashton as Roote in WEPG's production of "The Hothouse." Photo: John Lamb

Elizabeth Graverman as Miss Cutts, delivers relief to Robert Ashton as Roote in WEPG’s production of “The Hothouse.” Photo: John Lamb

Written by Harold Pinter in the 50’s and then thrown into a drawer where it stood for twenty years (or so say the rumors), “The Hothouse” is a raucous satire with underlying shades of truth that shows what happens when those in charge are left unchecked. “The Hothouse” is a mental institution (though it’s called everything from a convalescent home to a rest home by those running the facility) and it is, as the publicity for West End Players Guild suggests, a cross between Monty Python and Franz Kafka.

Robert Ashton rules the roost as Roote- a classic example of the Peter Principle as he has reached the pinnacle as manager of the home and has decided it’s best for him and the patients if he no longer checks up on them or even sees them. His bumbling management technique allows for some of the other inmates-running-the-asylum types to wander about doing what they please. As we open, he is having a nonsensical conversation with his right hand man, Gibbs, played with perfect British stoicism by Zach Wachter.  He informs him of, not only a death in the facility, but that one of the female patients has had a baby.

Roger Erb is delightful as a haughty and overbearing worker, Lush, who offers an almost blasé attitude to anything he does or discusses. Pete Winfrey is the reticent Lamb who is intimidated by the only female worker in the place and then succumbs to an unexpected experiment by two of the other workers. He also plays a significant role in the final outcome. Elizabeth Graverman is properly sexy as the horny Miss Cutts who is semi-committed to Roote but appears to be trolling the waters for everyone else who crosses her path.

Zach Wachter as Gibbs tries to play solitaire as Roger Erb as Lush distracts him in "The Hothouse" at WEPG. Photo: John Lamb

Zach Wachter as Gibbs tries to play solitaire as Roger Erb as Lush distracts him in “The Hothouse” at WEPG. Photo: John Lamb

In two smaller roles, Nick Kelly and Matt Hanify provide proper impetus to keep this wildly entertaining story moving along. It’s hard to describe the action as it moves along at a halting pace, moving from one silly conversation to the next until it all becomes startling clear at play’s end. Much like many government institutions today, it shows the danger of allowing any entity in that government the power to “run itself.” Checks and balances don’t exist so patients beware- you won’t know what hit you.

Directer Suki Peters has corralled this nonsense beautifully- allowing it to run off in all directions but keeping focus on the satire that Pinter has so brilliantly brought to the script. Aided by the multi-level set design by Brian Peters and the equally effective lights of Nathan Schroeder, “The Hothouse” runs from one ridiculous situation to the next- each building on each other until the final reveal. Joshua Cook’s sound design adds to the mayhem and the costumes of Beth Ashby are also on the mark.

We’ve had a couple looks at Harold Pinter this year and still another one lies ahead of us. But “The Hothouse” is a sheer delight of absurdity that haunts with the underlying theme of truth that is almost scarier than the many Halloween shows we’ve seen this season. Catch the West End Players Guild production of “The Hothouse” now through November 10th. Contact them at 314-367-0025 for tickets or more information.

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