Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions. 


Sunday, June 23

Gapers Block

Gapers Block on Facebook Gapers Block on Flickr Gapers Block on Twitter The Gapers Block Tumblr

« The Chicago International Movies & Music Festival Starts This Week The Bolt Residency Program Debuts this June »

Theater Mon Apr 11 2011

The Hot L Baltimore Shakes its Groove Thang at Steppenwolf


Allison Torem with ensemble member Jon Michael Hill in Steppenwolf Theatre Company's production of The Hot L Baltimore by Lanford Wilson, directed by ensemble member Tina Landau. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Uncertain times like these seem to prompt us to revisit classic stories of loss and desperation, which, unfortunately, seem uncannily appropriate again. And the point of this, I think, is not to wallow in our misery but to acknowledge that history does indeed repeat itself and to remind us that there are more important things than money and power-- things like simple human interaction and compassion.

Steppenwolf's adaptation of Lanford Wilson's The Hot L Baltimore does this beautifully. Although the afros and booty shorts immediately remind us that the play is set in 1973, the spirit of the conversations and the wistful optimism reflected in them mimic the spirit of the downtrodden American people today.

Most of the action in the play takes place in the once majestic but long-neglected lobby of the Hotel Baltimore, though we can see into the hotel rooms upstairs as well-- a clever addition by the Steppenwolf people, in keeping with this season's public/private theme. The set is breathtaking and impeccably-detailed, from the fully-furnished, distinctive hotel rooms upstairs to the giant, neon hotel sign with the requisite missing "e", all the way down to the red checker piece that is glued to the convincingly faux-finished marble floor. The large cast makes thorough use of the space, too, inhabiting it as if it were a real hotel-- making it hard to imagine any other play ever taking place in the theater. The hotel is more of an apartment building, really, as its guests are all long-time residents-- prostitutes and other people embedded in various stages of desperation, just getting by on the fringes of society.

The story in The Hot L Baltimore is driven by the conversations in it--all of them colorful--with topics ranging from sexual escapades to whole foods, punctuated by poetic and melancholy monologues by The Girl (Allison Torem) and beautiful but eerie ghost-singing by Sean Allan Krill.

There is a lot of symbolism in this play, but it is never spelled out for us. It is what we make it. During the post-show discussion last week, many audience members imagined the ghost character as a metaphor for the hotel itself, others viewed the hotel as a metaphor for the characters' dreams, and there was mention of the missing "e" standing in for all the lost characters of the Hotel Baltimore. And there is an undeniable musicality to it, as well. In addition to the actual music, of which there is plenty, the dialogue is clearly and tightly choreographed, sometimes overlapping and gracefully weaving in and out. There is a constant fluidity to it, as well--although it could be said that not much actually happens, the play always keeps rolling along like a train. One audience member noted that she senses this driving force when reading all of Wilson's plays, but has never seen it so accurately translated to stage before.

There is no question that this is a top-notch production, with impressive attention to detail and some of the most affecting acting I've seen in theater. It is certainly what we have come to expect from Steppenwolf. These guys aren't messing around. I suggest that you don't mess around, either, and check it out while you still can.

The Hot L Baltimore is playing at Steppenwolf's Downstairs Theatre now through May 29. For tickets and/or more information, visit

GB store
GB store

Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


An Angry White Guy
AREA Chicago
ArchitectureChicago Plus
Arts Engagement Exchange
The Art Letter
Art or Idiocy?
Art Slant Chicago
Art Talk Chicago
Bad at Sports
Bite and Smile
Brian Dickie of COT
Bridgeport International
Carrie Secrist Gallery
Chainsaw Calligraphy
Chicago Art Blog
Chicago Art Department
Chicago Art Examiner
Chicago Art Journal
Chicago Artists Resource
Chicago Art Map
Chicago Art Review
Chicago Classical Music
Chicago Comedy Examiner
Chicago Cultural Center
Chicago Daily Views
Chicago Film Examiner
Chicago Film Archives
Chicago Gallery News
Chicago Uncommon
Contemporary Art Space
Co-op Image Group
Co-Prosperity Sphere
Chicago Urban Art Society
Creative Control
Devening Projects
DIY Film
The Exhibition Agency
The Flatiron Project
F newsmagazine
The Gallery Crawl...
Galerie F
The Gaudy God
Happy Dog Gallery
Homeroom Chicago
I, Homunculus
Hyde Park Artcenter Blog
Joyce Owens: Artist on Art
Julius Caesar
Kasia Kay Gallery
Kavi Gupta Gallery
Rob Kozlowski
Lookingglass Theatre Blog
Lumpen Blog
Mess Hall
Neoteric Art
Not If But When
Noun and Verb
On Film
On the Make
Peanut Gallery
Peregrine Program
The Poor Choices Show
Pop Up Art Loop
The Post Family
The Recycled Film
Reversible Eye
Rhona Hoffman Gallery
Roots & Culture Gallery
The Seen
Sisterman Vintage
Site of Big Shoulders
Sixty Inches From Center
Soleil's To-Do's
Sometimes Store
Stop Go Stop
Storefront Rebellion
TOC Blog
Theater for the Future
Theatre in Chicago
The Franklin
The Mission
The Theater Loop
Thomas Robertello Gallery
Time Tells Tony Wight Gallery
Uncommon Photographers
The Unscene Chicago
The Visualist
Western Exhibitions
What's Going On?
What to Wear During an Orange Alert?
You, Me, Them, Everybody
Zg Gallery

GB store



A/C on Flickr

Join the A/C Flickr Pool.

About A/C

A/C is the arts and culture section of Gapers Block, covering the many forms of expression on display in Chicago. More...
Please see our submission guidelines.

Editor: Nancy Bishop,
A/C staff inbox:



A/C Flickr Pool
 Subscribe in a reader.

GB store

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15