Opening in February 1973, Hot L Baltimore was the first major success for Wilson and his theater company, the Circle Repertory Company. Critics and audiences loved Wilson’s play, and it set an Off-Broadway record of 1,166 performances after playing Off-Off-Broadway for a month.
In the play, the actors mill about in the lobby of a dilapidated old hotel, from which the ‘‘e’’ in the hotel sign is missing—hence the name, Hot L Baltimore. The play is comprised of a series of conversations between the residents of the hotel, who are contemplating an uncertain future after the hotel is condemned and scheduled for demolition.
Wilson’s play won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for the Best American Play of 1972–73. It also won an Obie Award for best Off-Broadway play, an Outer Critics Award, and the John Gassner Playwriting award. The play was also sold to ABC and adapted as a situation comedy.
Act I Summary
The play opens at 7 a.m. on Memorial Day. The hotel is being torn down and the residents are being notified that they have one month left before they must move.
As Bill notifies the hotel’s residents, Mrs. Bellotti enters looking for Katz, who has refused to allow her son to move back into the hotel. Millie begins a conversation with the Girl about ghosts.
April complains about several things: the sunlight, her inability to sleep, the change to daylight savings time, and the state of the water in the hotel. Mr. Morse enters and loudly complains that his window does not close tightly and that he may well become sick from the draft.
Jackie and Jamie enter, and Jackie immediately begins looking for Katz. Jackie goes up to Morse’s room to fix the stuck window. Katz finally enters and is accosted by the entire group with their complaints.
Jackie returns to the lobby to ask Katz to cosign a loan she needs; he refuses. In the middle of their conversation, Suzy enters with a customer. Katz tries to stop the man from going upstairs with Suzy, but she claims that he is a friend who is going upstairs to have a drink with her.
Mrs. Bellotti pleads with Katz to allow her son to return to the hotel. Katz will not consider it, claiming that Bellotti’s son is a thief. Mrs. Bellotti tells everyone that her husband has recently had his leg amputated because of diabetes and that he will not allow the son to return to...
(The entire section is 352 words.)
Act II Summary
Later that afternoon, Paul is badgering Mrs. Oxenham for help in locating his grandfather. Jamie and Morse are playing checkers. The Girl enters and begins to complain about the lack of hot water; she finally realizes that Katz has no intention of fixing the hot water.
Jamie and Morse fight about the checker game. It escalates into a physical brawl. After Morse hides in the closet out of embarrassment, Jamie feigns injuries to lure Morse from the closet.
Jackie enters, complaining that all the pawnshops in town are closed. The Girl asks Paul about his grandfather and learns that he has spent two years on a work farm for selling drugs.
Meanwhile, Jackie brags about the land she bought from a radio ad and about the organic food she is going to grow. The other residents realize that she has been conned. Millie talks about her childhood home.
Morse announces that he has been robbed—all his wife’s jewelry is missing. The residents realize that Jackie is the thief and Katz tells her that she must leave immediately or he will have her arrested.
Millie informs Paul that she is sure his grandfather is still alive.
(The entire section is 197 words.)
Act III Summary
At midnight, April is complaining about her customers. Bill has had the hot water fixed. The Girl searches through receipts looking for information about Paul’s missing grandfather.
The residents realize that Jackie has abandoned her brother. Suzy comes downstairs with all her luggage and announces that she is moving to a new apartment that her new friend (her pimp) has arranged for her.
After a glass of champagne, Suzy leaves. When the Girl informs Paul that she thinks she can find his grandfather, Paul tells her not to bother; he is no longer interested. As the play ends, April takes Jamie by the hand and begins to dance with him.
(The entire section is 111 words.)