In this world-premiere play by Allison Gregory, three strangers wind up at a mysterious resort. One is a mountain climber who can't seem to detach himself from a large onstage boulder (in this production, a wooden skeleton of a miniature mountain designed by Robin Macartney). Another is a wide-eyed and chipper young woman named Glorie who is attached to her copy of Neruda poetry. The third is a tart, middle-aged woman named Lana (played with a dark Dorothy Parker edge by Kristina Sutherland) who just wants to be left alone. In their first exchange, Glorie leans over to Lana and asks, "This place has that incognito feel, don't you think?" Lana is wearing sunglasses, but you can hear her roll her eyes when she responds, "I'm resting my voice."
None of the guests seem to know exactly how they got to their own private Hotel California, but they're all watched over by Cliff, the resort's one-man staff, played with curt grace by Vincent Delaney. Cliff has a kind of spiritual-master quality, quietly revealing the characters to themselves in small moments as he's serving them drinks or delivering a deck of cards. The characters, of course, don't always like what they see.
The situation is enigmatic, but the first act clips along with a Noel Coward–ish lightness. Cliff purrs, "Ah croquet, the gentle but wicket game." Lana contemplates the edge of a cliff (Cliffhouse, run by Cliff, is on a cliff) and says, "If rock and earth give way to air and water, whatter my chances?" Glorie (Meaghan Halverson) describes her sailor-father: "He has a ship that could launch a thousand faces."
But as Cliffhouse begins to reveal its mysteries, Gregory abandons wit for lugubrious pseudo-poetry and the pleasures of oblique dialogue for direct exposition. As one character describes a climactic moment: "I am walking backward through glaciers. [She's not actually walking backward through anything—we're in big metaphor country.] Tiny shards of ice fall past my nose, my eyes. They break into shimmering pieces on hard ground... I can smell my insides: garlic-fear."
Cliff describes another character as a "spent shell of a tree" falling off a cliff, while the other characters see her/it "shatter against the water, splintering into a thousand possibilities, and they watched it glide into the foaming maw of the sea, dissolving into driftwood and dust and some kind of future." Our gleeful mountaintop guru has become an open-mic slam poet circa 1997.
It's as if Gregory ran out of energy. The best writing usually looks effortless (there are always exceptions), but as the stakes in Cliffhouse get higher, she loses her cool and loses control. And loses us.