Things are considerably brighter at the Atlantic Theater Company, where The Hothouse is being revived. An early play by Harold Pinter, when he was still a half-pinter and not the subsequent megalomaniac, this is a savory satire on the horrors of bureaucracy. It takes place in a government “rest home” that is really, as Martin Esslin put it, a mental home and psychological-research station, where grotesquely funny and gruelingly creepy goings-on are the norm. It is run by an ex-army martinet, Roote, absurdly out of touch and absentmindedly rooting about in irrelevances. His chief henchman, Gibbs, is a Jeeves from hell, poker-facedly plotting mischief. Next comes Lush, who drinks steadily and makes brazenly unsteadying remarks. A mysterious Miss Cutts is Roote’s mistress, but also beds Gibbs and joins in sacrificing the newest staffer, Lamb.
You will note the starkly monosyllabic names of the staff; the patients, however, have no names, only numbers, which get routinely confused, even when one of them unaccountably dies and another inexplicably gives birth. The fine cast, under Karen Kohlhaas’s tight direction, performs riotously on Walt Spangler’s spookily antiseptic set. You may think this a totally mad world, but just try not recognizing some of your own in it.