The New York Times
October 4, 1987, Sunday, Late City Final Edition
Section 1; Part 2, Page 68, Column 1; Cultural Desk
Theater: 'Ambition,' By Halasz
By MEL GUSSOW
IN considering ''Ambition,'' a new play written, directed and designed by Peter Halasz, one must make a clear distinction between technique and both script and performance. As an experiment in the use of film as a scenic, three-dimensional background for live theater, ''Ambition'' is inventive. However, the design elements of the production are vitiated by Mr. Halasz's play, an artless adaptation of Andre Maurois's story ''Palace Hotel Thanatos,'' and by the general ineptitude of the cast. A presentation of Squat-Love Theater (a spin-off of Squat Theater), ''Ambition'' is running at La Mama.
The narrative does have provocative potential. Going bankrupt on Wall Street, a stockbroker falls into a depression, which is deepened by his discovery that his wife married him for his money. In his misery, he comes across an advertisement for the Hotel Thanatos in New Mexico, a kind of Club Med for suicides. The hotel promises guests that on its lavish premises they will die in a state of ''happiness and dignity.''
Faced with four-star amenities, some guests will naturally have second thoughts; they will want to prolong rather than end their lives. The hotel is fully - and diabolically -equipped to deal with such possibilities.
In the play, the stock market scenes are superficial, the broker's domestic situation banal. The core of the action is his visit to the Hotel Thanatos, a subject that demands a playwright with the dark vision of Friedrich Durrenmatt or an auteur with the vivid imagination of Luis Bunuel. In the circumstances, Mr. Halasz is no substitute.
The dialogue has the air of an unfinished scenario, with the actors called upon to fill in the blanks. Playing the protagonist's wife, Agnes Santha is inexpressive, while Rebecca Wright, who plays two highly sensual roles, is overkinetic. Trapped in the middle, as the stockbroker, is Tone Fish Nunziata, whose performance rises to adequacy (for unexplained reasons, his character has a Chinese name, Zhing Zheng Goa).
The only member of the cast who comes even close to establishing an otherworldly aura is Mr. Halasz himself, doubling as a train conductor and as a sinister servant who ushers the hotel guests to their quarters. Unfortunately, as author, he has equipped his character with some of the evening's most dreadful lines.
The scenic, cinematic environment is in stark contrast to the lassitude of the storytelling. The action is framed by a movie screen (used for titles and as scrim), and scenes are played before a swiftly changing landscape that shifts from stock market to kitchen to Grand Central Terminal. The most tantalizing scene is on the train to the last resort. Through the windows, we can see a vista of the Southwest. The grounds and interior of the Hotel Thanatos are appropriately elegant. The rate, we are told, is $65 a day for room and board - a bargain, until checkout time. Necessarily, guests are asked to pay in advance.
AMBITION, by Peter Halasz; based on ''Palace Hotel Thanatos'' by Andre Maurois; direction, scenario and design by Mr. Halasz; organized by Michael Mehlmann; scenic projections by Seth Tillett; music by Steve Piccolo; production stage manager, Susi Levi; lighting design by Chris Kondek; technical supervisor, Bobby Guidote; costumes by Gabriella Winter. Presented by La Mama E.T.C. and Squat/Love Theater. At 74A East Fourth Street.
Zhing Zheng Goa...Tone Fish Nunziata
Maureen, MargaRita Kirby-Shaw...Rebecca Wright
Harry Neuton...Michael Mehlmann
Train conductor and Sarconi...Peter Halasz
Ms. Boerstecher...Veronica Vidovsky