This most definitely is a review.
British playwright Harold Pinter’s The Room gets The Wooster Group treatment in their production, now playing at REDCAT in Downtown L.A.
The result is a lean, 45 minute-long piece of highly experimental and seriously spooky theater that is, for the most part, bizarre and impenetrable. Definitely not for all tastes…
In The Room, Rose (Kate Valk) is a timid, agoraphobic and garrulous woman. She incessantly talks about her fears of leaving the room she shares with her mostly silent husband Bert (Scott Renderer), fears of the now-subdivided mansion’s basement, of the cold weather outside and mysterious unknowns beyond her four walls. An encounter with her landlord Mr. Kidd (Ari Fliakos), and later with a strange couple she hears on the stairs, amplify her mounting paranoia until tragedy occurs.
Produced in 1957, Harold Pinter’s The Room is the first play by one of the most important playwrights of a generation. For this production, as directed by Elizabeth LeCompte, The Wooster Group company employs a number of devices to achieve a sense of alienation — both for the performers and their text and for the audience and the play. A key technique is the use of an actor, (Ari Fliakos, who takes on three roles including narrator), who reads all of Pinter’s stage directions aloud. Often the actor performs an action that purposefully doesn’t match the articulated stage direction. Another device is the presence of sound technicians on the periphery of the stage, yet in full view of the audience. These, plus other elements, such as the troupe’s use of xiansheng — more on that in a minute — all collaborate to create a distancing effect; you are constantly aware you are watching a stage play. Not for one moment can you adopt the usual stance of pretending that what is unfolding on stage is ‘real’ or ‘really happening.’ Interestingly enough, our emotional connection is not dampened by these theatrical techniques. The Wooster Group amp up the threat present in Pinter’s existential text, particularly with their apt use of spooky original music, composed by Omar Zubair complemented by the menacing sound design of Max Bernstein and Eric Sluyter.
The Wooster Group are known for making abundant use of Brecht’s Verfremdungseffekt (translated as “defamiliarization effect,” or “estrangement effect”). Theatrical devices such as actors directly addressing the audience (sometimes by stepping out of character), as well as bright stage lighting; here the house lights are left up at full level for the start of the show, slowly dimming throughout the 45 minute duration. Another common Brechtian device is the use of songs to interrupt the action abruptly, so several times one or other of the actors suddenly breaks into a country folk tune infused with a Chinese flavor, pretending to strum a fly-swat as another performer (on the edge of the stage) plays the mandolin.
Then there’s the bizarre use of the ancient Chinese form of xiansheng, a two-person comedy style popular in China since the Qing Dynasty. It’s also known as traditional Chinese “crosstalk comedy.”
According to ArtNet News, “The entire time they are performing, the group’s actors have the sounds of traditional Chinese “crosstalk comedy” piped into their ears [through earbuds]. The effect seems to be that they can’t quite settle into their characters, but have to be always aware of their act of speaking.
What all this boils down to is a palpable tension that’s evident in both the text and in the non-naturalistic acting style. The actors recite their lines awkwardly, yet with some emotion and expected expression.
Leading up to last Thursday’s opening night, a controversy erupted when REDCAT sent out a press release explaining how Samuel French Inc. had “forbidden” reviews of this L.A. production.
Go here to read my ‘op ed’ about all that off-stage drama.
The Wooster Group’s version of The Room is essentially a curiosity piece. So, it really depends on how curious you are about this show. If you enjoy experimental theater, I suggest you see this production before it disappears forever. As publishers of Pinter’s works, Samuel French Inc. has denied all permissions to The Wooster Group for any future staging.
The Wooster Group’s production of The Room
631 West 2nd Street,
Los Angeles CA 90012
Runs from Thursday February 4 to Sunday February 14, 2016.
Thurs Feb 4 – Sat Feb 6 at 8:30 pm
Sun Feb 7 at 3 pm
Tues Feb 9 – Sat Feb 13 at 8:30 pm
Sun Feb 14 at 3 pm
$50-$55 (members $40-45)
For more information and to purchase tickets, go here.
The cast includes Group members and associates Kate Valk, Suzzy Roche, Ari Fliakos, Philip Moore and Scott Renderer. Lighting: Jennifer Tipton with Ryan Seelig; original music tracks: Omar Zubair; sound: Max Bernstein and Eric Sluyter; sound consultant: Bobby McElver; video and projections: Robert Wuss and Max Bernstein; assistant director and costume supervisor: Enver Chakartash; stage manager: Erin Mullin; production manager: Bona Lee; and technical fellow/sound assistant: Gareth Hobbs.
A NOTE FROM THE WOOSTER GROUP:
Over the past forty years, we have experimented with many forms of theater-making. Our interest is in a theater that encompasses all forms of the arts and has an architecture that isn’t located in a naturalistic place: a theater which integrates music, dance and text into the final art form without privileging one over the other.
We approached Harold Pinter’s THE ROOM through a range of comedic forms. Some are familiar from American popular culture tracing back to vaudeville (duos like Abbott and Costello or the Smothers Brothers); and some come from other traditions. Among those is xiansheng or “cross talk,” a two-person comedic form that we encountered on a recent research tour to China supported by the Asian Cultural Council. “Cross talk” originated in the Qing Dynasty and remains extremely popular worldwide with an entire television channel devoted to it. Unlike American TV comedy duos, “cross talk” develops its comedy over time through an extended narrative, allowing more nuance in its storytelling style.
We are always trying to find new ways to tell stories, and putting these comedic forms into conversation with Pinter’s text takes our work in a new direction.
ABOUT THE WOOSTER GROUP:
Founded in 1975, The Wooster Group has made more than 40 works for theater, dance, film, and video under the direction of Elizabeth LeCompte. These works include RUMSTICK ROAD (1977), L.S.D. (…JUST THE HIGH POINTS…) (1984), FRANK DELL’S THE TEMPTATION OF ST. ANTONY (1988), BRACE UP! (1991), THE EMPEROR JONES (1993), HOUSE/LIGHTS (1999), TO YOU, THE BIRDIE! (Phèdre) (2002), HAMLET (2007), THERE IS STILL TIME..BROTHER (2007), LA DIDONE (2009), VIEUX CARRÉ (2011), CRY, TROJANS! (Troilus & Cressida) (2014), and EARLY SHAKER SPIRITUALS: A RECORD ALBUM INTERPRETATION (2014). Based at The Performing Garage at 33 Wooster Street in lower Manhattan, the company regularly tours worldwide, including North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. The Performing Garage is part of the Grand Street Artists Co-op, a 1960s project of the Fluxus art movement. More information can be found here.
Development of THE ROOM is supported by: the National Endowment for the Arts Art Works program; public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council; the New York State Council on the Arts; the Asian Cultural Council; the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation; Distracted Globe Foundation; the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation/New York Theater Program; the Fan Fox & Leslie R. Samuels Foundation; The Shubert Foundation; and the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust.
ABOUT REDCAT | THE ROY AND EDNA DISNEY/CALARTS THEATER:
REDCAT, CalArts’ downtown center for contemporary arts, presents a dynamic and international mix of innovative visual, performing and media arts year round. Located inside the iconic Walt Disney Concert Hall complex in downtown Los Angeles, REDCAT houses a theater, a gallery space and a lounge. Through performances, exhibitions, screenings, and literary events, REDCAT introduces diverse audiences, students and artists to the most influential developments in the arts from around the world, and gives artists in this region the creative support they need to achieve national and international stature. REDCAT continues the tradition of the California Institute of the Arts, its parent organization, by encouraging experimentation, discovery and lively civic discourse.
For current program and exhibition information call 213-237-2800 or visit the official site here.
Street Address: 631 West 2nd Street, Los Angeles CA 90012
REDCAT is located in downtown Los Angeles inside the Walt Disney Concert Hall complex with a separate entrance at the corner of West 2nd and Hope Streets. Parking is available in the Walt Disney Concert Hall parking structure. $9 event rate or $5 for vehicles entering after 8:00 pm on weekdays.
THE CAFÉ LOUNGE | Open to the public six days a week, the Lounge is a great place to spend an afternoon or grab a drink pre- and post-performance. Hours: Tuesdays– Fridays from 9am until 8 pm or post-show; Saturdays from noon until 8 pm or post- show; Sundays from noon until 6pm or post-show
THE GALLERY | REDCAT’s Gallery presents five major exhibitions each year, and publishes artist books and catalogues. Admission to the Gallery is FREE. Gallery Hours: Tuesdays–Sundays from noon until 6 pm and through intermission
THE THEATER | Tickets for programs held in the theater are available through the REDCAT Box Office, by phone 213-237-2800 or online here. Group, member, student and CalArts faculty/staff discounts available. Box Office Hours: Tuesdays–Saturday from noon until 6 pm or two hours prior to curtain.