Theatre Review: Catastrophic Theatre’s Paradise Hotel

They can’t get no satisfaction.

That’s both the starting point and the conclusion — indeed the raison d’etre — of Paradise Hotel.

In Richard Foreman’s zany yet provocative musing on sex, making its Houston debut in Catastrophic Theatre’s go-for-broke rendition, four characters are forever trying to reach a destination of complete and constant gratification. But they never get there. Or if they do — it’s sometimes unclear exactly where they are, apart from the surreal limbo of experimental theater — something always interferes to keep them from attaining their goal.

Foreman, long considered the reigning philosopher-vaudevillian of the avant-garde, clearly means his characters to register as preposterous cartoons, with their struggles and frustrations rendered as existential slapstick. Frankie Teardrop is an ineffectual film noir gangster; Martin X, a perpetually conflicted guy in a not-unflattering evening gown; Professor Percival Kittens, a clownishly fussy aesthete; and Jessica Juggs, a brazenly sensuous temptress.

These sillies are frantic to reach their destination and do the deed — in any way, shape or form. But we quickly realize they’re more talk than action, more fantasy than fulfillment. A compère/concierge named Drake Van Dyke pops up in various guises, to mislead and bedevil the foursome, assisted by two bellhops in snazzy caps and hotpants.

Sex has been making people look ridiculous ever since Adam and Eve realized they looked silly without their fig leaves. So it’s perfectly reasonable for Foreman to make sex look ridiculous for a change. If you squint, you may find traces of more thoughtful reflection on the theme of desire vs. gratification, the question of whether anything so obsessively anticipated can ever be satisfyingly realized. Or is the whole nature of sexual obsession more about the tease than the payoff?

Directors Greg Dean and Troy Schulze guide a wildly inventive, high-energy rendition that sustains the script’s freewheeling mélange of existential absurdity and wacky raunchiness. It’s Samuel Beckett meets Benny Hill.

As befits the material, the performances are just too, too much — in all the right ways. Matt Carter makes Frankie a laughably nonthreatening tough guy. Jessica Janes invests Jessica Juggs with such overeager lustiness that she’s a love trap that backfires. George Parker’s Martin X turns every urge to bewilderment and frustration. Kyle Sturdivant’s Percy Kittens is a gem of clowning, bouncing between sudden bursts of terror, ecstasy and childish petulance.

Drake Simpson commands the proceedings as Drake Van Dyke, leering goofily and constantly making crazy trouble for the others. Aaron Asher and K. Brown pose and tease naughtily as bellboys.

Greg Dean’s set suggests a carnival sideshow version of a posh hotel. Tiffani Fuller’s costumes are as crazy and unpredictable as the characters. Dean and Chris Bakos’ sound design abounds in wacky aural effects (gongs, buzzers, bleeps) right out of a cartoon or a bad game show. Tamarie Cooper supplies antic choreography for the capers and chases.

As intended, Foreman’s anti-sexual sex romp incites more laughs than desire — unless it’s the desire to take a cold shower and go directly to bed with a cup of hot chocolate and a Jane Austen novel.