George Mason University’s School of Theater and the Mason Players presented The Blue Room, written by David Hare and adapted from Arthur Schnitzler’s Der Reigen. Director Alex Galloway and his design team (Elisa Perez on costumes, Gabby Lavoie on lighting, and Alessandro Gaiarin on sound) work with the ensemble to weave together seemingly unrelated lives using one of the most basic human instincts: sexuality.
Settling in, one can’t help but be both confused and intrigued by the scene breakdown, which includes a smattering of characters who do not seem to know each other, and find themselves in vastly different situations and exchanges..different in nearly every way but one; they all end with a sexual encounter. As the scenes play out, you begin to realize as an audience member that these people are all linked through a common sexual partner, and with this sudden realization, the genius of this once- baffling performance is revealed.
While the act itself is the same, motives and depths of desires are all over the place. We have a plucky young girl Irene (Jessica Dubish) who is, to put it nicely, making some extra cash, a power-struggle between an Au Pair and one of her employers (Skye Lindberg and Nate McGraw), and two sides of an unfaithful marriage (Maggie Rodgers and Noah Peterson) to start. While a lot time is spent with the actors dressing and undressing themselves (and each other), I find the most intriguing part of the piece to not be about sex at all, but rather the questions that arise in discovering how we use our sexuality. While these characters may be participating in one of the most intimate acts known, the lack of emotional intimacy is notable. This is not sex at its fairest and finest– this is the kind of sex that we pretend does not exist in our own lives; an escape from loneliness and a metaphorical chess piece. These characters are locked in a mind game of manipulation, projection, and mismanaged pride.
The cast uses a minimal set, needing only a few pieces of furniture in each scene (okay– mostly beds), and a backdrop that is lit with mainly subtle hues. Each scene ends with actor Zach Wilcox appearing in the corner of the stage with a stopwatch and a deadpan, “they don’t pay me enough for this ” air about him. He calls out an amount of time to the audience, the shortest being a laugh-inducing “45 seconds.” This was a perfect way to break apart the scenes in a way that both strengthened the plot and diffused the tension with humor. We see obsession (Derek Ypst and Juliette Aaslestad as a Playwright and Actress), and exploitation mixed up with politics (Chelsea Townsend as an underage model), and are taken to sceneries as different as a dark park bench versus a luxurious hotel room.
The ensemble is a young one and they are still strengthening their craft, but there is a notable current of talent in this production. I particularly enjoyed the performances from Nate McGraw and Jessica Dubish. Nate did a fine job with his character as a conflicted student named Anton, and Jessica was very compelling as a fiery young “working girl” who you really wanted to pity, but somehow couldn’t. She wouldn’t let you.
George Mason University’s School of Theater’s The Blue Room provided a wide range of characters, questions, and motives for aspiring actors to draw from. As an audience member I found that it left more questions than answers…and some of the best productions do just that.
Running Time:One hour and 45 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.
The Blue Room ended its run on October 5, 2014 at George Mason University’s Stuidio 1- 4400 University Drive, in Fairfax, VA. For information on future productions, please see their calendar of events.