Welcome to the White Room- Infinite Quest
A REVIEW BY THE BAD ORACLE
First of all, it must be said. DICKS. There are SO MANY DICKS. There are big dicks, little dicks, red dicks, yellow dicks. There is a giant, man-sized (NOT life-sized, MAN-sized) dick. Apparently, (and much to the probable chagrin of Glass Mind) Gallery 788, where Trish Harnetiaux’s Welcome to the White Room is currently playing, is also hosting an erotic art show. I was even warned ahead of time by GM’s excellent Marketing and Communications Director, Sarah Weissman, to anticipate the dicks, but honestly, the sheer impressiveness of the display o’peen took my breath away. I’m a theater critic, not an art critic, so I can’t speak to the validity of the dicks, but if we’re judging on numbers, that show is in the bag, man. ANYWAY. Glass Mind sure has an ability to separate the wheat from the chaff. The opening scenes of White Room felt fairly comfortable. I see a lot of theater, much of it contemporary, and the genre usually sort of breaks down into two categories: one, I like to call “complicated people yelling at each other” the other, “machine gun dialogued Beckett-lite dystopia”. This is firmly in the latter camp. We are presented with a stark white room (DUH). Three figures march onto the stage. We’ve got the ice-haired, boardroom-babe, fuck-me-shoed Ms. White (Jessica Ruth Baker), the blandish suit-and-tied Mr. Paine (Eric Park) and Jennings (Kevin Griffin Moreno), who looks like a New Mexican Assistant Professor of pottery who secretly votes Republican. Their rat-a-tat conversation makes it clear that they have been brought to this room by a secret, Malice in Wonderland, outside force. They start out by proving their abilities (powers?) by displaying some shiny metal and plastic gadgets that seem to have deeply serious properties but ultimately wind up making their users look unthinkably silly. In fact, as the show goes on, this tension between the seemingly superficial, weirdly empty, sorta creepy dialogue and the hilarious nature of the physical comedy starts to grow more pronounced. They sound like a lab abstract: “access”, “implement”, “apply”. As their Clue-ish names indicate, they’re clearly playing some sort of elite game, but we get no closer to figuring out what the hell it is. Every time your brain lights on something – nostalgia? Nostalgia is a sort of game. Sex? Sex is definitely a sort of game, too, maybe – it slips away. At times the show almost feels like a send up of some of the most pretentious, self-important theater of this type I’ve ever seen. And I loved it. The sense of humor that infuses the whole proceeding makes it buoyant, not draggy, effervescent, not ponderous – like it took a shot of Fizzy Lifting Drink. Chris Cotterman initially seemed a puzzling choice to direct as he’s so clearly identified with classical theater (he’s a resident member of Baltimore Shakespeare Factory) but it turned out that his familiarity with text based approach really sharpened this whole thing up. I liked his specificity, his intentionality, the wit in his staging and his firm control of the dialogue. The acting is mostly spot-on, with Baker leading the charge. She’s just perfect, serious, with a smirk around the edges. Every step she takes is purposeful and clean. A lady who knows where the fuck she’s going. She masters the difficult art of being sexual but not sexy – you will never hear a kiss described in more accurate and less emotionally appealing detail. If you think her “long as the day” legs mean we’re heading for a Twilight Bone, you’ve got another thing coming, mister. Park is also excellently funny with his nice guy looks and his blank stare. At one point I had a fit of the giggles watching him tango across the stage while intermittently bocking like a chicken. Moreno is the balance in many of the scenes and I enjoyed him very much, especially when he narrates the action like it’s a National Geographic special crossed with a film noir radio play. Of course, there’s a twist in all this, a very satisfying “aha!” moment inherent in the arrival of Patrick (Justin Lawson Isett) who falls through the chute with a clunk. I WILL NOT spoil this twist and if you read any other review that seems like it will spoil it, STOP READING, go SEE THE PLAY and THEN finish it. All I’m going to say is that, somewhere out there, Anita Sarkeesian is grinning and she doesn’t even know why.
BOTTOM LINE: Welcome to the White Room requires a little bit of patience for a whole lot of payoff. It’s even funnier than you think. Harnetiaux plays some really neato tricks on your too-big human brain that, trust me, you’ll dig. Toss in razor sharp acting, engaged direction, a gaspy third act twist and a room full of dicks – really, what could be better?
Running at Glass Mind until December 14th.
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