Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Blue Room

When David Hare's The Blue Room with Nicole Kidman was on Broadway in 1998, it seemed a thin and cliched story about sexual encounters. The Bridge Production Group at The WhiteBox Art Gallery tries to reinvent this loose adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler's Reigen (also a 1950s French movie, La Ronde) by performing it a small, basement art gallery, where costumes hang in the universal restroom and on a rack within the audience's view. The action unfolds inches from the audience making the piece more voyeuristic and disquieting. 

The 10 vignettes tell a circular story that attempts to show how class and power impact sexual encounters - we have a prostitute and her client; an au pair with the boss's son, the politician with his young paramour. Most of the tales focus on the unequal power between men and women - especially rich, influential men and their lovers. But the stories fall into shallow cliches - and the play's discussion about sex never amounts to more than a casual conversation. It's too bad Hare's adaptation resisted  including a few more strong women - it might have created a more vivid, original play.

The Bridge Production Group's Artistic Director Max Hunter directs Christina Toth (Annalisa in "Orange is the New Black") and himself in a multitude of hook-up scenarios. While both ably communicate a variety of characters, only Toth finds the visceral core of each. Hunter shows disdain, swagger and callousness but he never touches the vulnerability that Toth discovers, especially in the more damaged individuals.

Costumes challenge the smoothness of the production since, like the original, changes are mostly done in front of the audience. Sometimes the dresses fall off Toth or something is turned around with the tag showing. Rather than offering insight into the individuals portrayed, such moments just seem sloppy (costume design by Nicolle Allen). Bulky, too, are set changes - as a folding couch is made into a bed or a coffee table is added. The slight set design could be pared down even more.

The projection of countdowns and imagery aids the storytelling - with the light, sound and movement amplifying the sudden ending of scenes and relationships (lighting and projection design by Cheyenne Sykes). Like the Broadway version neon often lights the set adding a seediness to the encounters. A sign detailing the time each tryst takes makes the audience laugh, but becomes monotonous after the fourth or fifth pairing.

Blue Room, David Hare
Max Hunter and Christina Toth.
Photo credit: Callum Adam
The Blue Room plays at The WhiteBox Art Gallery (329 Broome Street between Bowery and Chrystie Streets) until July 29. Shows are Wednesday and Thursday at 7 p.m.; Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 p.m. and Saturday, July 21 and 28 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $30 at

The performance is approximately 90 minutes.

No comments: