“Motel”—the third act of America Hurrah by Jean-Claude van Itallie—is at last something new. Perhaps one should temper one’s impatience for novelty in a form in which so many of the rudiments of ordinary competence are often lacking—and yet what a rare pleasure it is to see a work freshly conceived. But what we have missed even more than originality of conception has been the sense of our own time, our own country. Nearly everything worth commending has in the past few years come to us from England. Of course in the arts there is no need fortunately for nationalism or imperial competition, nevertheless a country and a people are ennobled by those arts that bring into form and coherence the chaos of daily life and living experience. “Motel” is not exactly a drama; rather it is a sketch, or an image. It is brilliantly theatrical and most peculiarly American. The cast is just a voice, that of the Motel Keeper, who drones on and on without regard for the action. The characters are two hideous, speechless, life-size dolls: a mature, gross, rubbery couple, two figures from the mud of the present, fascinating constructions of anarchy and compulsion.
The scene opens on a tacky little motel room and the droning voice of the Motel Keeper. It is her function to give the cover story, our cover story—the endless commercial by which our existence is explained, glorified, and sold. She combines in almost every sentence the claim of an unnecessary and fragile newness combined with a fraudulent oldness. “It’s a nice room, not so fancy as some, but with all the conveniences. And a touch of home. The antimacassar comes from my mother’s home in Boise. Boise, Idaho. Sits kind of nice, I think, on the Swedish swing.” The dolls, the dummies, are the object of all this never-ceasing solicitation. They come into the motel, bent, no doubt, upon some obscene assignation. Wordlessness is the very skin of their nature and they never speak. They are beings of constant action, creatures of devastation, breakage, and defacement. Their destructiveness has an anarchic sexuality about it: bed, toilet, and dirty words; magical obscenities are scrawled with lipstick on the walls, just as the cavemen drew their bulls and swimming deer in the dark chambers of prehistory.
The Motel Keeper continues, “There now…. There’s a button-push here for TV. The toilet flushes of its own accord. All you’ve got to do is get off. Pardon my mentioning it, but you’ll have to go far before you see a thing like that on this route.” When the woman doll enters she goes into the bathroom, flushes the toilet. Soon, “pieces of her clothing are thrown from the bathroom…. Now the toilet articles and the fixtures from the bathroom follow the clothing.” The man doll jumps up and down madly on the bed. He strikes the objects in the room with a cigar. The Motel Keeper …
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