HOTEL UNIVERSE - At the Olney Theater through August 3.
Actor Terrence Currier has such skill and force that in almost any role he could steal almost any show, but so much insight and integrity that he almost never does.
In subordinate roles Currier is the very model of a supporting actor, often underplaying severely to avoid overshadowing weaker players in more prominent parts. As a leading player he can hold his ground with -- or against -- anyone.
In short, with Currier the play's the thing; in the most egotistical of professions he never loses sight of why he's on the boards.
Which makes a midsummer night's dream of Currier's current performance in "Hotel Universe" at the Olney Theater. The play sputters along nearly to intermission before Currier comes onstage; he takes command at once, and by the final curtain has teased or wrung virtually every drop of potential from Philip Barry's minor 1930 psychodrama.
The role requires Currier to quickly create a mystic Freudian father figure and then sustain it while portraying, in rapid-fire order, the father figures of others in the cast: a remote gentleman, an uncouth Jewish furrier, a drunken two-bit actor, a mean old rich man. Having lived their little lives upon the stage, these characters within a character dissolve the moment Currier is through with them. It is magic.
To say that "Hotel Universe" would be dreary without Currier is not to say there is anything wrong with the rest of the cast, most of whom have long rows to hoe in Barry's rather mechanical expositon of Freudian pop psychology. Michael Rothhaar in particular does a lively and engaging job of keeping things moving as the poor little rich boy, and Ann Sachs breathes a surprising amount of life into her cardboard-cutout character.
Rolf Beyer's set, which must survive a lot of punishment, is even better than the one he designed for Agatha Christie's "A Murder Is Announced" at the Olney earlier this summer, but unhappily the production suffers through the first half from a similarly slow pace. Lines of what should be repartee are delivered at all-too-deliberate speed.
"Hotel Universe" probably is less dated now than at any time since World War II. There are striking parallels between the eve of the Depression era and the present state of the world. The characters, at the whimpering close of the Roaring Twenties, are searching for meaning to replace the empty distractions of their dying era. God is becoming fashionable again.