City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Best Western

By edg - Posted on 10 August 2007

Show details
Assembly Rooms
Running time: 
Rich Hall (writer-director)
Carol Cleveland (Del), Tim Williams (Early), Tom Stade (Toby), Maria Golledge (Wanda), Dagmar Doring (Ryvita), Karen Eva Clarke (Dr. Meacham)

Best Western is a new drama written and directed by Perrier award-winner Rich Hall, who incidentally is also doing a stand-up show throughout August. Although Best Western is billed as comedy in the Assembly programme, as Hall acknowledges in an introductory speech, before he slips behind the scenes, it's dark stuff indeed. "It just came out that way," excuses Hall.

Hall sets his sights on the bland mediocrity and callousness of modern America. The title Best Western, like so much in the script is darkly ironic, a reference to both the hotel chain and the romantic image of the American West.

The instruments of his critique are a handful of characters who converge on a Montana motel which is due to be demolished to make way for an expanded highway. The motel owner Del (Carol Cleveland) struggles to keep the business afloat and can't work out why people think she looks manly. She lives with her pregnant, tv-addicted daughter Ryvita (a suitably vacant Dagmar Doring), who thinks "true love" beams out of wall-sized, plasma flatscreen, and who doesn't even know who the father of her child is.

Meanwhile, a different drama is unfolding in one of the motel rooms. An old rancher Early (a brooding Tim Williams) who awaits an operation, is struggling to come to terms with the fact that his new heart valve may cost him the ranch that he built with "shit, piss, sweat, and blood".

His estranged son, Leo (Tom Stade) who passed up his father's ranch to play the fiddle, is also a reluctant guest at the hotel, nursing old anger for his dying father. In spite of the efforts by his new wife Wanda (Maria Golledge) the two men seem bitterly irreconcilable.

But before we are drawn into these tales of dysfunctional familial relations we meet Ed, a smug jobsworth who is clearing the way of obstacles for the road expansion. Hall takes more comedic freedom with this character. The way Ed waxes about his work and his connivances, blithely leaving a trail of human wreckage behind him, would be hilarious in another context. But as with a doctor character later on - a buxom English gal with an amusing, no-nonsense attitude and
a costume out of Calamity Jane - they don't sit easily with the rest of the play.

There's much to recommend in Best Western. Hall's dialogue is vivid in its vernacular (expressions like "Whatever bark he had on
him has been stripped off by now") and there's wonderful bursts of scabrous wit decrying modern evils of, for example, the US health system or government indifference. However, the play suffers from an uneven-ness of tone, you feel jerked uncomfortably back and forth from tragic to comic. Maybe that's the point. But it's tempting to think that in the hands of a different director Hall's script would become more complete and alive.