I was quite eager to enter Hotel Savoy, an immersive theater piece by the European company blendwerk, staged at the Goethe-Institut (sponsored by P.S.122). But the thought of checking out had me rather rattled. In Joseph Roth’s 1924 novella, upon which director Dominic Huber has based the performance, a man named Gabriel checks in to an enormous hotel in a nameless Eastern European city and finds himself unable to depart. Finally, a typhus outbreak, a Marxist uprising, and a devastating fire conspire to evict him. This may not end well, I thought, as I stepped through the door of my hotel room.
Guests enter Hotel Savoy alone, at precise seven-and-a-half-minute intervals timed by a concierge with a watch at her belt. Much of the Goethe-Institut has been transformed into an inn, and a receptionist soon escorts you to a small room adorned with a single bed, a push-button phone, and a Caspar David Friedrich painting. There’s relatively little attention to detail in the room, and that’s the case with most of the other chambers you visit during your stay, as you’re led from place to place by a maid, an elevator operator, and others, all of whom seem to want to chat with you, so come prepared to improvise.
Wandering a deserted hotel conjures pleasantly creepy sensations as well as a touch of erotic frisson. Huber has presented not a slavish adaptation of the novella (though an actor playing Gabriel does occasionally appear), but rather a thematic and atmospheric rendering of its hotel. Yet much more care should have been lavished on the particulars of the setting. An issue of Life magazine announced the year as 1945, but the bedspread and telephone read 1980s. The actors, many of whom appear untrained, seem unprepared to respond to conversation, even as they solicit it. And there’s a decided lack of mints on the pillows. Still, at only $25 per night, Hotel Savoy provides budget travelers with a distinct theatrical bargain.