Welcome to the White Room by playwright, Trish Harnetiaux, is a world premiere and how fortunate we should consider ourselves to have such a provocative, new show in Baltimore. Director Chris Cotterman artfully presents a challenging subject matter with aplomb. Glass Mind Theatre’s Season 5: Bound consists entirely of previously never-performed work. One can only hope they equal Welcome to the White Room.
Upon entering Gallery 788, one is informed that the gallery is also hosting ERO6, an erotic art show. The art on the walls seems to contribute to the play’s atmosphere that something very strange is going on, perhaps something not of this world. Once the action starts, everything but the stage and the characters there upon seems to melt away.
The three principle characters are already inside the mysterious white room when the lights come up. No mention is made of how they came to be there. Ms. White, who is played by Jessica Ruth Baker with a Tilda Swinton-esque flair, speaks first. She informs the other two occupants of the room that she is a former child genius who specializes in nanotechnology. Ms. White reveals that contained inside her metal briefcase is the fruit of her labors, a mysterious device that both “converts and transforms”.
Mr. Paine (Eric Park) volunteers to try Ms. White’s mysterious macguffin. The device causes Mr. White to jump as though electrocuted, hallucinate and visualize an enigmatic purple rope. Eric Park’s physical performance is very convincing and you are almost concerned for him when he hits the floor. As a result of his contact with Ms. White’s device, Mr. Paine suffers from occasional off-putting side-effects.
Jennings’s briefcase also contains a device of questionable origins and powers. Jennings as played by Kevin Griffin Moreno is a cool, inexplicably British, voice of reason. While his fashion sense is questionable (paisley with tweed, really?), his deductive powers are unquestioned. The character of Jennings serves as the occasional narrator and the Dialect Coach, Ann Turiano, is to be congratulated for helping Kevin Griffin Moreno to find his inner BBC nature documentary voiceover voice.
All of the characters are aware of some vague task they must complete. When an envelope drops through a slot in the door it raises more questions than answers.
As time passes, the characters begin to act more and more erratically. At one point they devour an entire deck of cards. Thankfully, these playing cards are rice paper. Kate Smith-Morse, pulling double duty as Stage Manager and Prop Design, must spend ages painting the suits on the cards before each show. The extra effort makes it all the more surprising when the cards are chewed up and swallowed by the principle players.
Later, Mr. Paine and Ms. White perform a beautiful and well-executed tango choreographed by none other than Jessica Ruth Baker. This lovely dance and the card consuming are reminiscent of the tea party and croquet from Alice in Wonderland. You may not understand precisely why it is happening, but it sure is entertaining.
It is not until very late in the show, that the final character Patrick arrives. His appearance is as surprising as his method of entering the room. To discuss Patrick’s character in detail would give away too many of the Welcome to the White Room’s delicious, late-breaking revelations. Suffice to say, Justin Lawson Isett embodies Patrick with a manic energy bordering on disturbing. Isett manages to give Patrick an air of innocence while playing a character nobody would sit next to on a bus.
The action draws to a close with a revelation not unlike, A Clearing in the Woods, but nowhere near as uplifting.
Welcome to the White Room is set entirely inside a not surprisingly, white room. This white room contains very little, so there is little to distract from the oddness of the landscape. The set as designed by Michelle Datz is brilliant in its simplicity.
Music by composer Brad Ranno is eerie yet familiar. By the end of the play, you remember where you have heard something like it before.
Welcome to the White Room leaves you guessing until the very end and then some. Always a conundrum, it is also funny and perhaps, a morality tale.
Running Time: Approximately 1 hour, with no intermission