The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Hot l Baltimore opens in a hotel lobby with a front desk, a lounge, and a stairway. This set is the Hotel Baltimore of the title, a dilapidated establishment scheduled for demolition. All the play’s action takes place here, as the various employees, residents, and visitors interact with one another and with various other groups that drift in and out of the lobby.

As the play opens, Paul Granger, waiting for Mr. Katz to appear, is asleep in a chair, and Bill is making several wake-up calls while the Girl talks with him. She has tried several names but finds none of them comfortable. As the morning advances, various people appear, beginning with Millie, who complains that she cannot sleep late and later talks about the ghosts that haunted the restaurant where she worked. Then Mrs. Bellotti enters and asks for Mr. Katz; he has evicted her son from the hotel, and she wants Katz to take him back. At that moment, the Girl discovers eviction notices for the hotel’s residents. April enters to complain that the hotel has no hot water, followed shortly by Mr. Morse, whose window will not shut. Jackie, followed by Jamie, whom she constantly orders about, comes in to ask for a favor but then volunteers to shut Morse’s window for him. She borrows his key and goes upstairs as Morse and Jamie begin to play checkers.

When Katz finally arrives, Jackie returns from upstairs and asks him to cosign her loan so she can get insurance for her new car. He refuses. As Suzy enters with a john, Mrs. Bellotti pleads with Katz to let her son, Horse, stay at the hotel. Again, Katz refuses; he claims that Horse is insane and a thief. Mrs. Bellotti goes upstairs to clean out her son’s room. Quietly, Jackie asks Millie when the pawnshop opens; other characters hear the question, a fact that later proves significant. Katz announces that all the hotel’s residents must leave in a month, for the hotel is scheduled to be demolished. This proclamation precipitates an argument. Joining the melee is Suzy, wearing nothing but a towel, who has chased her john into the lobby. This commotion awakens Paul, who begins shouting that the hotel is nothing but a flophouse. When Jamie returns from upstairs and sees the now-naked Suzy, he drops the box he is carrying, revealing goods stolen from the hotel and neighborhood shops. All laugh at him.

Act 2 opens later the same day with...

(The entire section is 975 words.)

Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Hot l Baltimore achieves dramatic success not through its story but through the ways the characters interact with one another onstage and through the situations that grow out of their relationships and experiences. All the play’s characters are very well defined and respond to situations accordingly, their voices mingling with the responses of the other characters, even if all the personalities represented are opposed. For example, when at the end of act 1 a scantily clad Suzy chases a fleeing john into the hotel’s lobby early in the morning, April responds with bawdy good humor; her laughter feeds Suzy’s anger. Katz, on the other hand, responds as a hotel manager would: He orders the luckless prostitute to return to her room until she is properly attired. Similarly, the domineering Jackie orders Suzy to leave the lobby, no doubt increasing the latter’s desire to stay right where she is. Morse, conversely, is unconcerned by something that has nothing to do with him; he continues to exercise and sing to himself. The noise awakens the visitor Paul, who, unaccustomed to such antics, begins screaming. All are brought to silence by the sight of the young Jamie, coming down the stairs and gaping at the nude Suzy. This one incident, occupying fewer than two pages of text, demonstrates how the drama is staged based on the interaction of competing character types. The play’s abundant humor thus arises from character and situation, not from the story...

(The entire section is 475 words.)

Historical Context

(Drama for Students)

In the early 1970s satellite transmissions meant that Americans could watch history unfold as it happened. Because more Americans were...

(The entire section is 339 words.)

Literary Style

(Drama for Students)

Acts are the major divisions in a drama. In Greek plays the sections of the drama are signified by the appearance of the...

(The entire section is 344 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Drama for Students)

1973: Senate hearings begin in Washington into the break-in at the Democratic National Committee Headquarters in the Watergate...

(The entire section is 162 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Drama for Students)

Wilson is interested in what he considers to be an American disregard for the remnants of the American past. Research the history of the...

(The entire section is 159 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Drama for Students)

Hot L Baltimore has never been made into a film, but the play was adapted to television in 1975 by ABC.

(The entire section is 20 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Drama for Students)

Talley’s Folly, one of Lanford Wilson’s most successful plays, was first performed in 1979. Set in 1944, this play is about the...

(The entire section is 122 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Drama for Students)

Barnett, Gene. ‘‘Recreating the Magic: An Interview with Lanford Wilson,’’ in Ball State University...

(The entire section is 348 words.)


(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Barnett, Gene A. Lanford Wilson. Boston: Twayne, 1987.

Busby, Mark. Lanford Wilson. Boise, Idaho: Boise State University Press, 1987.

Dasgupta, Gautam. “Lanford Wilson.” In American Playwrights: A Critical Survey, edited by Bonnie Marranca and Gautam Dasgupta. New York: Drama Book Specialists, 1981.

Dean, Anne. Discovery and Invention: The Urban Plays of Lanford Wilson. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1995.

DiGaetani, John. “Lanford Wilson.” In A Search for a Postmodern Theater: Interviews with Contemporary Playwrights. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1991.

Jacobi, Marten J. “The Comic Vision of Lanford Wilson.” Studies in the Literary Imagination, Fall, 1988, 119-134.

Sainer, Arthur. “Lanford Wilson.” In Contemporary Dramatists, edited by D. L. Kirkpatrick. 4th ed. Chicago: St. James, 1988.

Savran, David. “Lanford Wilson.” In In Their Own Words: Contemporary American Playwrights. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1988.