by Brittany Crowell
Is this a Room has established a new and artistic way to experience history, as audiences witness a political act onstage. The piece, an award-winning transfer from the Vineyard Theatre, presents the transcript of an interrogation (redacting the political specifics) and allows the audience to draw their own conclusions about American government, politics, and justice.
Is this a Room (conceived and directed by Tina Satter) doesn’t have a script, so-to-speak. The play’s vocabulary is pulled directly from the transcript of the FBI interrogation of 25-year-old Reality Winner, a former intelligence specialist who was accused of releasing unauthorized government information. It’s more conceptual in nature than most things you’ll see on Broadway, and as such, Is This a Room feels like a breath of fresh air in the commercial theater realm.
The piece is performed by a cast of four and stars Emily Davis, who received both the Obie and Lortel awards for her performance in the role. Davis’ physicality in the portrayal of the 25-year old highlights both Reality’s gumption and her age, her caring and her restlessness. The cast is supported by Pete Simpson, Will Cobbs, and Becca Blackwell who play the three FBI agents interrogating Winner. Each takes full liberty with their character, giving life to the unique personalities of the agents and the cringe-worthy humor of the “niceties” performed by them as they push their way into Reality’s home.
The transcript serves as a canvas for the dance that Satter places on the bare and open stage, (scenic design by Parker Lutz). Through Satter’s direction the movements, stillness, and proximity of the characters are accentuated: we feel the FBI breathing down Reality’s neck one moment and her isolation and loneliness as she stands alone the next. Satter also plays well with the tempo of the piece, slowing down some of the more surreal moments (as small talk absurdly arises mid-interrogation), and speeding through some of the mundane details as we suddenly shift to witnessing from Reality’s perspective and feel her nervous impatience to get through to the final sentencing.
Lighting and sound (by Thomas Dunn and co-designers Lee Kinney and Sanae Yamada respectively) also play a large role in the piece, with each redaction being highlighted by a lighting shift and a booming sound. Upon entering the theater, we are greeted with very modern music, reminding us that – while this is a piece taking place in 2018, it is still ever-so relevant today.
Is This a Room was exciting enough to feel scripted, and was performed in a way that siphoned relatable and sympathetic characters from a recorded encounter. The play brought a cold, political document to life, teaching us about ourselves, our country, and our values in doing so. I highly recommend catching its limited run (through January 16) at the Lyceum Theater.
IS THS A ROOM – conceived and directed by Tina Satter
WITH: Emily Davis (Reality); Becca Blackwell (unknown male); Will Cobbs (Agent Taylor); and Pete Simpson (Agent Garrick)
Sets by Parker Lutz; costumes by Enver Chakartash; lighting by Thomas Dunn, sound by Lee Kinney and Sanae Yamada; original music by Sanae Yamada; and Puppet design by Amanda Villalobos; Produced by Dori Berinstein, Sally Horshow, Matt Ross and the Vineyard Theatre. At the Lycuem Theater: telecharge.com. Through January 16. Duration 75 minutes