- The Room by Harold Pinter
An epigraph excerpted from Paul Schmidt’s introduction to Meyerhold at Work opens the program to The Wooster Group’s The Room. The quote reads: “The author fixes the text in his own time, the director in his staging inscribes it in his, and in that inscription reveals history to us.” What we are about to witness, the quote presages, is a revelation of two times: the author’s time and the director’s, the text’s and the performance’s. But it also situates something else: inclusion and exclusion, outside and in, revelations and cover-ups, the text and the un-text, the inscribed and the unmarked. It promises a layering that those familiar with The Wooster Group have come to expect. The dramatic text, no matter how faithful the company is to it, may not be the beginning or the end point, but the thing that draws together disparate elements filtered through rehearsal into a performance that will expose something particular about this moment.
The Room is a claustrophobic play whose protagonist, Rose Hudd (Kate Valk), suffers equally from agoraphobia and her fear of intruders. She does not want to leave the boardinghouse room she shares with her husband, but it also seems she cannot. We were trapped with her, a feeling compounded by the house lights kept at half, insinuating our contiguous presence with the actors and consequently the stage action—an effect that had more impact as the play progressed. Ari Fliakos, who deftly switched between playing Mr. Kidd, the caretaker, and Mr. Sands, a renter who was told that the Hudd’s place was up for grabs, also read Pinter’s stage directions into an onstage microphone. It was as if the drama were a séance and Fliakos the vessel for Pinter’s resurrected spirit. By placing Pinter’s “ghost” center stage, director Elizabeth LeCompte literally showed us how she was reinscribing the text. Sometimes the sets and stage action matched Pinter’s written descriptions, but the performance was most interesting when it did not. For example, the Hudd’s window was replaced by a moving monitor onto which video designers (Max Bernstein and Robert Wuss) simulcast Rose or broadcast a “murderous” and wintery cityscape. Projected on the stage right wall was waving, green-hued wallpaper; its undulations echoed Rose’s threatening description of the basement apartment’s “running” walls.
This refraction of Pinter’s play was both aural and visual. Max Bernstein and Eric Sluyter’s sound design warped and punctuated the movements of actors, props, and sets. Each time Rose put a plate or pan in the sink, it clanked and smashed from the [End Page 448]
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speakers as if she had thrown a handful of cutlery into a large metal chamber. When furniture moved, the sound rumbled and echoed as if a giant steel door were sliding open in a warehouse. Weight and urgency were given to the slightest movements, making audible the characters’ apprehension and setting a tone of unease and anticipation. These techno-magnifications also humorously enunciated the space between the world as theatre and the world as real. When Mrs. Sands (Suzzy Roche) plucked her mandolin, the sounds of her strums were replaced by Chinese instrumental music. The impossibility was funny, but also a reminder that this space abided by different laws. The acting style compounded this sensation. LeCompte disrupted “actory” impulses with physical tasks, games, and music. For example, actors wore ear buds piping in Chinese “cross-talk” comedy routines to which the actors regulated the tempo of their line delivery. After a research trip to China, LeCompte better understood Pinter’s play through the rhythms of this comedic form. To extend this connection into physical actions, monitors strategically placed around the stage and mostly out of view of the audience played clips of these routines, and the actors’ movements were dictated in part by what...