nytheatre.com review by Julie Congress
March 13, 2011
Room, presented by the SITI Company, is a theatricalized lecture. The words are Virginia Woolf’s. The direction is distinctly Anne Bogart’s. For 85 minutes, actor Ellen Lauren, as Woolf, addresses us about Women in Fiction. Taking frequent tangents to relive memories of a childhood in St. Ives, to stress the importance of having a “room that you can call your own,” and to self-analyze, Woolf’s text is heavy and dense, bursting with interesting ideas and turns of phrases.
The abundance of text is complemented by a sparseness of movement. Lauren spends minutes on end with her arms behind her back, elbows bent in perfect 45 degree angles. A word or phrase changes that, and she stands with arms stretched up, left hand in a fist and right thumb bent out as though it were broken. Bogart has given Lauren a vocabulary of perhaps a dozen movements, which are repeated, in varying orders, throughout the show. There are no extraneous movements, no idle gestures. In many moments it feels as though you are being given very little to look at so that you will listen to the language even more.
And then the lights shift drastically and the sound turns melancholy or foreboding or whimsical, and we’re in one of the many heightened, poetic moments of the show—usually triggered by a memory or fear. Christopher Akerlind and Brian H Scott’s lighting design is remarkable. Neil Patel’s scenic design of three giant white walls and a chair gives Akerlind and Scott the perfect palette to paint on with light; each color shift is the theatrical equivalent of a paragraph break.
Following one of these drastic design shifts, Lauren says to us:
I wish you could live in my brain for a week. It is washed with the most violent waves of emotion. What about? I don’t know. It begins on waking; and I never know which—shall I be happy? Shall I be miserable?
And while I certainly empathize with those words, I did not believe her when she said them. Because while this show is technically precise and exudes artistry of the highest level, it lacks emotional content. Declaratively stating that one is miserable is not misery. I did not believe that the character portrayed was ever actually happy or sad or even capable of feeling either. Perhaps that is intentional—but if it is, I did not understand the reason why.
I am a huge fan of the SITI Company. They have a distinctive style and it stems from their training/philosophy. Anne Bogart has written three books on the subject and training is offered in Viewpoints and Suzuki. Room exemplifies, perhaps more so than any other production of theirs that I have seen, the concepts and ideas that I equate to the SITI Company. In ways, it is textbook Bogart. But by being so “textbook,” what is lost is what I love most about SITI shows—the sense of play, and, most noticeably lacking in Room, emotion. The moment at the end of Who Do You Think You Are in which the performers so genuinely relished in each other’s company, the theatrical play and relationships of Radio Macbeth, the joviality of Freshwater. While technically very impressed with Room, I was not fully engaged due to the emotional disconnect between performance and text.