Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Room (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Initially I was going to write an elaborate kinda/sorta not-quite-review of this production by the esteemed Wooster Group of Harold Pinter's first major play, The Room.  Samuel French, the play publisher, issued a strange demand regarding this production, evidently as a result of some feedback from the Pinter estate.  Maybe.  We don't really know.  Their demand, weirdly enough, was that the show get no reviews.

Well, it really isn't up to Samuel French (nor the Wooster Group, nor the REDCAT theater where the show plays) to make that call.

Now that Samuel French has refused to authorize an extension of this production, it hardly matters.  So here is my unabashed reaction.

Pinter rightly won a reputation as one of the English language's premiere playwrights of his era, the master of what some dubbed the "comedy of menace."  The Room pretty much encapsulates this.  A man and woman in a room they evidently rent putter about, chatting about pretty much nothing.  Well, the woman does.  The man remains resolutely silent.  His wife(?) seems a pack of nerves, but fiercely trying to hide it by what might be called "reassuring" talk about how comfortable they are.  Yet she's also afraid--overtly of the room below, evidently recently vacated.

What precisely anyone in the play is afraid of, or what makes them angry (or worried, cautious, excited, etc.) remains unstated and unexplained--deliberately so. Hence the menace, all the more vivid given the period in which the play first appeared, the 1950s when success and conformity were treated as gods.

Herein lies a bit of problem, which director Elizabeth LeCompte approached with an intriguing slant.  We live in a world two generations past that of the play, one post 9/11 as well as the Cold War and dozens of other perception-altering events. How then, make The Room as vivid as in the past?

This production did not change the play as one might think from Samuel French's reaction.  Rather it dove a bit deeper into the text, adding the occasional  stylistic flourish.  Stage directions, for example, were read aloud even as the cast performed them.  The sound effects emerged not from a sound booth out of sight, but from technicians on stage.  Instead of a traditional box set, we got a rather Eastern approach to the acting area.  A few lines were even sung!  So what we the audience experienced hardly resembled that audiences saw previously--yet remained utterly the same text, focusing upon the same issues and ideas, seeking to invoke the same emotions.

Not sure it completely succeeds, at least not directly.  What this production and cast (including Kate Valk, Scott Renderer, Ari Fliakos, Suzy Roche and Philip Moore) did accomplish was forcing me to look at the play anew.  In fact, getting it out of my mind has proven a tiny bit of a challenge.  Honestly, for that alone they deserve plenty of applause!

The Room plays at the REDCAT in the Disney Center downtown 631 West 2nd Street, Los Angeles at 8:30pm until Saturday February 13 then at 3pm on Sunday February 14.

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