Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Blue Room By David Hare

By Joe Straw

The play “Der Reigen” from which David Hare adapted into The Blue Room was so provocative it could not be performed on any stage for many years.  It was done in living rooms, away from the prying eyes of the general theatre going public and the police.  Nevertheless, as progressive as some cities may have been, arrests were made.  People were sent to jail.  Adolph Hitler called it “Jewish filth”.

The play was written in the name of science.  Well, sort of.  Written by Dr. Arthur Schnitzler as an exploration of the profligate sex lives of the Austrian society of that time.  He also wrote this for his own voyeuristic amusement.

Roger Vadim eventually made the play into a film, La Ronde.

And now it is here at the Moth Theatre in Los Angeles directed by John Markland, and Produced by Efrain Schunior, in an intimate space, off an alleyway, away from prying eyes of the police, and in the progressive bohemian section of town. (To date, no arrests have been made.)

It is not so much, the nudity, but the message this play conveys.  It’s not so much the roundness of nude female form, or the flaccid male body parts, but the message it communicates, subtly, and without fault.

The Blue Room pays attention to the connectivity of sexual beings from ordinary people to the aristocrats.  The players communicate in a fashion ultimately to reach a goal.  Their engaging intercourse is wonderfully played out as the audience watches them plow ahead into the unforgiving vortex of infection. 

An earlier time would have suggested syphilis today it is H.I.V.

Breathless is the word to describe that moment when all things change between two sexual beings. The dramatic affect on one’s spirit, that instant connection that draws two people together. And through rough mature dialogue they communicate their instinctual animalistic proclivities. Although each case is different, one finds a similarity in all scenes. It’s as though a moth were being drawn into the flame.    

And like the moth that flutters around a light in all alleyways, two people meet each other in the night: The Cab Driver, Patrick Scott Lewis, and The Girl, Addison Timlin. In this meeting there is an attraction and revulsion all in the same moment and in a heated back and forth they make it in the passageway.  And the outcome is a demand for money.

“Next time, get the money first.” – The Cab Driver.

Unbeknownst to both parties, The Girl gives The Cab Driver a little “special” gift to take with him and he takes that gift to his next encounter with The Au Pair, Lili Bordan.  She is invited to come to his office after being seen dancing in a nightclub.  She is a stunning French woman trying to find a suitable partner but as her luck would have it this night she ends up with The Cab Driver.  She desires a meaningful relationship. His curiosity with her is limited to sex and it takes him only a few moments to slide the dress from her shoulders and move her to the floor.  Still she has hesitations.

Because of the risk.  That’s why.  Why should I risk?  That’s the reason.  It’s not safe nowadays.  I’ll only risk if… - The Au Pair

Later, The Au Pair, at the home where she is employed, has a chance encounter with The Student, Scott Dunn, whom she lives with.  The Student has a lot more than books on his mind when he entices her to come sit next to him on the bed.  The Au Pair is complicit in their relationship.  And with his parents away in the country, it doesn’t take long before these two are having an unmeaningful relationship on the table.

The experienced Student now looks for other conquests and he finds one minutes later in The Married Woman, Pamela Guest.  She, reluctant at first, cannot turn down the opportunity of a young man.  And he, filled with brandy, is experiencing a slight case of erectile dysfunction, which is quickly resolved when The Married Woman takes matters into her own hand.

I didn’t think it happened with young men, that’s all.  I thought it happened with clapped-out older men. – The Married Woman

Later, The satisfied Married Woman, enjoying a moment of contemplation, and reading a good book in bed waits for her husband The Politician, James Mendoza, to come to her.  He speaks of hygiene one moment and in the next moment he is in a hotel lying in wait for The Model, Katharine Towne. 

You taste of pudding. - The Politician

I just have sweet lips. – The Model

Really?  Have men told you that before? – The Politician

The Model, living a life of drug addiction, hands The Politician two pills as a philter for the night, but doesn’t expect to be engulfed by his uncontrollable desires.  He, in turn, rapes her, and picks at her body like a crow plucks at an appealing bag of food.  It is an exceptionally dramatic scene caught by the use of light flashes giving us a glimpse of a life destroyed.

Later, The Model meets up with a self absorbed exuberant The Playwright, Justin Huen. She is entranced by his words and his intelligence even though she doesn’t understand a thing he says and wants something that all models want.  (Note on what models want:  To date no one on the planet has figured that out.) The Playwright wants a subject for future material but most of all he wants her to have an adventure with her. 

But, The Playwright, wanting bigger prey, moves on to The Actress, Alice Fulks, a petulant prima donna, who is a giver and a taker.  She is a woman who can build a man up and then send him crashing to the mat.  She is an enticer, a deceiver, a player and a raconteur and later she uses these devices on The Aristocrat, Jan Milewicz, a man experienced with the finer things in life without having a relationship with a world renown actress.

Whatever the case may be The Aristocrat ends up in bed with The Girl completing the full circle of decadence.

The Moth Theatre has the knack of bringing a lot of very fine talent to their stage.  The actors were fantastic (some more suitable to film than the stage).  At times the dialogue is so quiet one has to strain at times to hear the discourse.

Fulks as The Actress was quite astonishing in this role, so many layers, and very physical in this demanding role.  She has the voice, trained, clear, and able to hit the mark, making her moments both precious and pernicious.

Bordan as The au Pair had a quiet intensity and put up quite a struggle in her quest to enrich her life.  She has an underlying strength in her objective. 

Timlin as The Girl was last seen in The Quarry.  She has a rough exterior but is capable of showing us her heart.

Guest, The Married Woman, was delightful, courageous, funny, ambitious, secretive and selective.  Hers was a enjoyable and courageous performance.

Towne as The Model was perplexing.  It was a role that was characterized by a woman who had a serious drug problem and is possibly raped.  One was not sure why she wanted to be with the politician or why the drug use was crucial to her objective. Whatever the case may be she continues on with life not seriously concerned with what went on in the prior scene.   Aside from that this was a very physical and demanding role.

Lewis, as The Cab Driver, was kind of creepy in a cab driver sort of way but one finds him quite engaging and a wonderful actor.  He is in the moment when he toys with the infection of his desires. A man in his prime and beautiful women to satisfy his sexual tastes.  His enthusiasm at the curtain call was contagious.

Huen, as The Playwright, while engaging needs a stronger and imaginative objective.  Not always clear and precise as this role was meant to be. The reasons why The Model and he are together are not made entirely clear.  The choice of being inebriated leads him nowhere when there are a number of better choices available. Secondly, his forced laughter must have an underlying truth associated with this action, and his objective otherwise it’s just pure folly.  Also, not being clear on his objective had caused this actor to lean into a candle he has just lit, unaware that his shirt could burn in the process. One notices the flame, his shirt, and wishes for his safety, but by that time the dialogue was lost.

Mendoza, as The Politician, created a character that was morose.  Away from the spotlight, maybe this is how politician are, but on stage, probably not a good choice.  He was idealistic with his wife, but not cautious with The Model. (Even Kennedy knew to turn away from the flashing camera when he was spotted with Marilyn Monroe.)

Dunn as The Student tries a little too hard to be controlling.  The moments don’t work perfectly, the conflict not specific, and the objective not clear.  Lost is the idea that he is expecting a lover but has another in his room, now. But he is young and will grow out of this, still there was some very nice work going on.

Milewicz, as The Aristocrat, had a very interesting perspective to his character, worldly and so profoundly intimidated by an actress who is madly in love with him and despises him all in the same breath. His performance rang true but needed more to hold his own. Nevertheless, his was a very good performance.

John Markland, the director of The Blue Room, gambles with the play using video inserts that play on the closed Venetian blinds in the background while the two onstage are having sex. The problem with the video is two fold, it repeats what we in fact have just seen: the maneuvering steps to copulation, and two, all the lights go out and one can barely see what happening on stage or how much time has elapse.  First and foremost the social intercourse was much more engaging, but the gamble of using video was a choice, one may recognize as good or bad, and the director has that right.

Also, there seems to be revisions in the play that affect the relationships on stage, particularly the one between The Student and The Au Pair.  The scene in this version of the play is violent and says nothing about the class distinction, that between master and servant, which would greatly improve the scene.

David Hare has written a wonderful script.  It is exceptional and astonishing.  The dialogue is taut, explicit, and heightens the adult sense of pleasure.  It is every fantasy one could hope to imagine or to play out.  One can gasp at unexpected dialogue or the events unfolding on stage.

Jenna Pletcher, the lighting designer, lights the show, but not being very clever with this limited budget. Both shows seen at the Moth Theatre were very dark. One really needs to see the actors’ faces through adroit lighting. Also, relationships change after sex and the fact the audience can only view glimpses of the act (via a little light) hurts the connection the audience has with the actors.

The Scenic Designer, Benoit Guerin, seems to have had a limited budget needed to build the set he wanted.  Probably a lot of money went in to produce the videos presented on stage.

In any case The Blue Room at the Moth Theatre is a production you should run to see.  Sadly only 12 performances through December 19, 2010.


  1. Hi Joe,

    First of all thanks for the detailed review. It's interesting to read how the performance was handled with ten actors as opposed to the usual two.

    Was the stage darkened for all the sex scenes? Was it the actual actors on the stage who were filmed in sex scenes for the video that was projected? Seems an interesting variation on having the clock.

    Interesting to read about Katharine Towne's role. I've felt she had the talent to have a better film career than she has managed. It seems you were impressed by her role. I gather she appeared full frontal nude too?


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  3. Thank you "D" for your comments.

    Yes, the stage was darkened for all of the sex scenes. The only lights available on the actors were the residual lights from the projection of the video.

    The sex scenes on video seemed to be visuals of the "meetings of the minds" so to speak. They were not erotic, but instead appeared to be of events leading to sex.

    Katharine Towne is a very good and physical actress. Perhaps things did not go according to plan on this particular night, chemistry not right, etc.,

    There was no full frontal nudity from any of the actresses on this night. Still, this was a sexually charged evening and I enjoyed every minute of it.

  4. Hi Joe,

    Thanks for the reply.

    From what was visible do you reckon the actors/actresses were naked during the sex scenes? I think it is more sexually charged when you know they are naked in front of you but only fleeting glimpses are visible due to the lighting.

    I've seen several variations of The Blue Room. The most sexually charged have been when the stage has been dimly lit and there are only flashes. Although Ian Glen's naked cartwheel was quite something to behold! I've also seen productions where the nudity has been full frontal and in full view. These have turned out to be a total flop.

    Btw, are you reviews published elsewhere? They are some of the best I've come across. Really connects to the reader as if they were present.

    Merry Xmas.

  5. Hi "D",

    Thank you for your kind comments.

    Culver City News published my reviews at one time but our relationship became tiresome at best.

    As for the actors being naked, the best I can say is they were all in various stages of undress. A couple of male actors were completely nude and trying to be as discreet as humanly possible. Lighting, tables, blankets, and candles were audience barriers. The stunning women on stage were a little more modest.

    For me, a scene can be sexually charged when the actors have a relationship that is well defined. For the most part it's all about the chase that leads the audience to an emotional frenzy.

    And I agree with you, completely naked with little lighting works for me.

    John Markland, the director, works very organically with his actors. It is specific and exciting and I'm looking forward to the next production at The Moth Theatre!

    Thank you again!

    Merry Christmas to you and yours!

  6. In regards the Katharine Towne's performance, in the scene with the politician, the objective was the drugs. This is the case with all addicts. Wether she had believed at a certain point she could have gotten more money or more drugs from him... evaporated as her state declines. The drugs are what got her there. And ultimately, the drugs are why she will leave. It wouldn't even be the rape. He could be anyone.
    In regards to the second scene, one may argue that she is trying to actively forget what will obviously be an event that will follow her the rest of her life. She is trying to cheerlead her self out of it. She is able to do this right up until the point the play write asks her where she lives. "Someone found it for me...," she says of the apartment. Not able to look the play write in the eye. Beginning to fidget. "You're're in love!" He is so wrong that she has no choice but to eek out a few small protests through body language, a quietness, a small scoff maybe.. she is a teenager after all(dealing with some very adult problems.) And at this point he has no idea that he is being almost sadistic. This leaves her vulnerable to his "charms." And perhaps, him more vulnerable because he can see for the first time that she is...
    And one might ask, why does she take the apartment from the politician, a man who raped and completely humiliated her? Well she might as well get something for her troubles, right?

  7. Thank you skippoo,

    In theatre, and particularly on stage, one doesn't say "the objective was the drugs."

    The objective is a call to specific actions. To get drugs is an action verb and not a very imaginative one at that. But I suppose it could be consider an objective if the play was about her getting drugs.

    But, she already had drugs, so that's not it.

    She also had a desire to seek men who had very high profiles. So obviously, she wanted a lot more.

    But, what does she want? And how does she go about getting it? These questions were not answered the night I was there. Possibly it was answered on some other night.

    Truth on stage comes from an actor who makes a deliberate and specific choice and with that all actions on stage ring true.

    Thank you for your good comments skippoo!

  8. hi! you got a really wonderful review about The Blue Room. very detailed and interesting. do you know where I can find the complete script for that play? thank you so much! :)

  9. Hi Bantug,

    Try they have plenty for you to buy.

    Joe Straw