Shared by hundreds or thousands of people, a hotel room is a very public place. But being, in most cases, just a big bedroom, it’s also very private. People do private things there — even things they wouldn’t do any place else. And then they pass on the key card to the next person, and go home. Playwright Salvatore Antonio is fascinated by this idea and plays with it in his new piece, Sheets.
The inspiration came from spending too much time on the road and in hotels. “I spent a lot of time not sleeping, just staring at the ceiling. I would start thinking about the number of people who’d been in this very room that I’m in, on these sheets that are not my sheets,” he says. “Once you start down that rabbit hole . . . what’s happened in this bed? How many people have killed themselves here? How much sex has gone on here?”
The play is set in one hotel room. In a series of disconnected scenes, taking place at different times or perhaps in different realities, many strangers experience the same room — from the cleaning staff, to an escort with a client, to two cousins. “[You] have all these different people who are searching for connection — physical and/or emotional — that all do it in this contained space, that is public, but what they’re searching for is private,” he says.
Antonio intends the play to raise a variety of questions, and to serve as an exploration of how people behave in this strange kind of private/public space. “Like, are we good in our skin when we’re alone — when we don’t have the regular trappings of our lives and people telling us who we are? What are you when you’re in a new place and by yourself?”
Antonio’s characters are naked most of the time, because really, who wears clothing in a hotel room? He doesn’t deny it’s a sexy play, but not everyone who visits the room is happy and horny — there’s grit and darkness too. “As soon as you have a naked person who happens to be crying, it’s amazing how the energy in the room can shift . . . if [sexiness] is all that people are expecting, they’ll be surprised at what’s revealed,” he says.
Because the room is a sort of bubble where unusual things happen, and we don’t see what people are like when they leave the room, it’s impossible to say if same-sex contact inside the room translates to a queer identity outside the room. “I’m not interested in nailing anyone down to any one thing. It’s about what they are right now, within the confines of this room — are they messier? Sexier?” he says. “So there is no gay or lesbian scene, per se, but there is definite activity and discussion that has to do with same-sex attraction.”
He was asked to put on the final production at the soon-to-be-closed Videofag performance space in Kensington Market. “I wrote this piece for the space, and being the last spot, and wanted to honour the space as well,” he says. “So another dimension to Sheets is that it’s exploring the energy of a public space — what’s left when people go through it, and all the things a space has seen.” The play encourages us to ask: What has Videofag seen? And how much will we miss it?