Kid Peculiar at the Coral Court Motel to debut at Hotchner

October 1992. St. Louis and the nation await the Clinton-Bush-Perot presidential debate at the University. An estranged mother and son reunite for perhaps the last time at a fading St. Louis icon.

The stage is set for Kid Peculiar at the Coral Court Motel, by Carter W. Lewis, playwright-in-residence in the Performing Arts Department in Arts & Sciences. The tragi-comedy — commissioned as part of the University’s 150th anniversary celebration — will make its world premiere March 25 in the A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre in Mallinckrodt Student Center.

(It’s a busy weekend for Lewis. His While We Were Bowling will debut March 26 for a month-long run at the Studio Arena Theatre in Buffalo, N.Y.)

Performances of Kid Peculiar will begin at 8 p.m. March 25-26; at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. March 27; and at 2 p.m. March 28.

Tracey Kaplan plays Madeline and Brian Golden is Stamp in Carter W. Lewis' *Kid Peculiar at the Coral Court Motel* March 25-28 in the A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre in Mallinckrodt Student Center.
Tracey Kaplan plays Madeline and Brian Golden is Stamp in Carter W. Lewis’ *Kid Peculiar at the Coral Court Motel* March 25-28 in the A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre in Mallinckrodt Student Center.

Kid Peculiar explores the relationship between Madeline (senior Tracey Kaplan), an expatriate St. Louisan who is now chief administrator for the Commission on Presidential Debates; and Stamp (senior Brian Golden), her estranged teenage son.

The play is set entirely in a room at the Coral Court Motel, the Route 66 motor inn that, with the dawn of the interstate freeway system, grew notorious locally as a “no-tell motel” before its destruction in 1995.

“Stamp was conceived during a night at the Coral Court when Madeline was 17,” Lewis said. “The pregnancy sort of trapped her back then but eventually she got out of St. Louis and moved to D.C., leaving Stamp to be raised by her mother and father. She’s been in and out of his life, but it’s kind of a ritual that each time she comes to town they meet, get to know each other a little bit better, find out where each other is, then go away again.

“Madeline and Stamp have a kind of smart, snappy, mother-and-son repartee between them, but this night is a touch different,” Lewis added. “Madeline is getting ready for her third attempt at marriage. She’s mellowing in a way, looking for something calmer, happier, more consistent, and she’s interrupted this crazy, chaotic time to tell Stamp.”

Stamp, meanwhile, “is very bright but doesn’t fit in at high school,” Lewis continued. “He’s looking to disrupt things in some way. If his life is not going to change, he is looking for something that will push it, ignite it, alter its course. And he’s brought pills and a gun.”

Director and artist-in-residence Andrea Urice — who directed Lewis’ American Storm in 2002 — described Kid Peculiar as “a bit of an emotional roller coaster. You cannot call it a comedy, you cannot call it a drama. As with all Carter’s plays, it’s a healthy dose of both.

“He can be very funny, but ultimately the story moves into deeper and more difficult places, because Stamp and Madeline have had a complicated relationship.”

Lewis was drawn to the Coral Court, formerly 7755 Watson Road, because of its colorful history and aura of shabby grandeur.

Built in the 1940s and ’50s, the Streamline Moderne-style motor inn initially catered to families, returning veterans and truck drivers, but became infamous locally (and even nationally) as a “monument to adultery,” with short rental periods and private garages that hid cars from view. One old joke holds that half of South St. Louis was conceived at the Coral Court.

“The Coral Court has a kind of mythological status,” Lewis said. “Everyone either has stories about it or knows people who have stories. Families stayed there, celebrities stayed there, murders happened there, people had affairs — and it’s on Route 66, which adds another kind of romance.”

Lewis also pointed out that, though Kid Peculiar was commissioned for the University’s sesquicentennial, he didn’t intend to write a history play or a “founding of Washington University” play. Instead, he sought to adapt St. Louis settings and events into a story that touched on larger themes, especially the parent-child relationship and its sometimes-unacknowledged difficulties and strains.

“I wanted to write about the effect of wanting to be loved and not quite being loved enough,” Lewis said. “Particularly from the child’s point of view, there’s that salt-and-pepper mixture of love and hate. You strike out to get their attention, when what you want most is to draw closer.”

Tickets for Kid Peculiar — $12 for the general public and $8 for senior citizens and University faculty, staff and students — are available through the Edison Theatre Box Office, 935-6543, and all MetroTix outlets.

For more information, call 935-6543.

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