Hotel Happy

(Artwork credit: Nathier Fernández)

Yadira Guevara-Prip, Isabela Orrego, Chocorramo the Donkey and Annelise Cepero. (Photo credit: Russ Rowland)

By: Darryl Reilly

A mystical donkey who has been hiding in a brothel’s closet resurrecting his human pursuer after kicking him to death, is among the dizzying magic realism flourishes contained in playwright Camilo Almonacid’s riotous yet thoughtful farce, Hotel Happy. In Colombian culture, the donkey symbolizes resilience and perseverance in the face of adversity. Here, that animal is affectionately named Chocorramo; he is vividly depicted by puppet designer and puppet director Matt Acheson’s fabulous life-sized creation which is skillfully manipulated by cast members. Mr. Acheson’s handiwork is a grand highlight of this euphoric production. Mr. Almonacid’s buoyant scenario has prevalent serious overtones. The farcical elements of fast paced interactions amidst slamming doors entertain with the common knowledge of the region’s military violence, sexual exploitation and U.S. belligerence.

Hotel Happy is a renowned Bogotá “erotic resort.” A working girl at this upper echelon institution rescued the donkey from physical abuse and has hidden him in a closet, tending to him with the help of her two fellow sex worker friends. Three U.S. private sector paramilitary operatives arrive posing as clients in pursuit of the donkey who has been used as a mule to smuggle a large emerald stolen from a tomb. Presiding over the hijinks is the carnal establishment’s domineering madam who later reveals her spiritual side. Almonacid spins out these complications with comedic depth, expressive dialogue and a roaring dénouement.

Lidia Porto and Ed Herbstman. (Photo credit: Russ Rowland)

The vivacious trio of Isabella Orrego, Yadira Guevara-Prip and Annelise Cepero, portray the altruistic prostitutes with individualistic brio. Eddie McGee, Ed Herbstman and Michael Frederic, are all engagingly animated playing the American intruders with requisite shades of goofiness and ugliness. The formidable Lidia Porto offers a hilarious and soulful characterization of the wily Madame Carlota.

Director Estefanía Fadul’s energetic staging mines all the play’s humor, complexity and pathos. UnkleDave’s Fight-House’s fight and intimacy direction achieves thrilling clashes and aching passion. Scenic designer Tanya Orellana’s gorgeous red-centric vast setting with wheeled beds, richly depicts various rooms of the emporium as well as artfully representing outside locations. Carolina Ortiz Herrera’s brilliant lighting design employs atmospheric hues ranging from searing brightness to ominous darkness, as well as stragetic neon. Sound designers Daniela Hart, Bailey Trierweiler, Noel Nichols & UptownWorks render the music and effects with jolting clarity; the donkey’s growling is most affective. Haydee Zelideth’s stunning costume design is of expected house of ill repute flamboyance combined with clever personalization.

Yadira Guevara-Prip and Edie McGee. (Photo credit: Russ Rowland)

Hotel Happy is presented by the New York City-based Houses on the Moon Theater Company, which was founded in 2001 with the “mission to dispel ignorance and isolation through the theatrical amplification of unheard voices.” Those goals are attained by this enchanting theatrical fable.

Hotel Happy (through March 3, 2024)
Houses on the Moon Theater Company
122CC, 2nd Floor Theater, 150 First Avenue, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit
Running time: two hours and 15 minutes including one intermission


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