Chicago Theatre Review
Even the Walls Have Ears
The Room – A Red Orchid Theatre
As the play opens, Rose is working diligently cooking a hot evening meal of rashers and eggs for Bert, who quietly sits wrapped up in his reading. Throughout her meticulous culinary preparation Rose carries on a one-sided conversation with the man at the table. It’s never clear if Bert is her husband, her brother, her partner or simply someone with whom she shares this room. Rose babbles on incessantly about how cold and windy it is outside, how damp and dark the basement’s become and how warm and cozy their upstairs room remains. After Bert drinks a final cup of tea, Rose dresses him for his frigid night errands and sends him on his way to drive his van.
Left alone in the darkness, Rose rocks in her chair, the creaking sounds filling the night. She listens to the wind moaning and whipping around outside. The house groans mercilessly as the the building settles and contracts with the heat. Even the walls seem to have ears. Suddenly Mr. Kidd, the landlord, bursts into the room unexpectedly, filled with questions and armed with a potato peeler. Then Mr. and Mrs. Sands, an eccentric, well-dressed couple, pays a surprise visit. They confess they’re looking for the landlord in order to inquire about renting Rose’s room, a room she has no intention of leaving. Then, after the Sands have left, Mr. Kidd returns with Riley, the mysterious man from the basement, who has a message for Rose from her father. Suddenly Bert returns and shockingly beats Riley to death.
Written and first produced in 1957, this is British, Nobel Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter’s first of his 29 plays. Better known for later works, like “The Birthday Party,” “The Homecoming” and, to be seen later this Fall at Raven Theatre, “Betrayal,” Pinter’s plays are quite unique. Even the Oxford English Dictionary coined the term “Pinteresque” to refer to the playwright’s special style of writing. Silences play as much a part of Pinter’s works as his dialogue. His plays open with an innocent, everyday situation, but they slowly turn threatening and absurd. With Halloween just around the corner, this offering from Pinter’s Comedy of Menace is the perfect frightening entertainment.
Highly respected director Dado has once again worked her theatrical magic with this seldom-produced script. She stages the one-act with a gnawing, growing sense of unseen terror. As the play opens within Grant Sabin’s darkened environment the audience feels a part of the space. The titular room is brilliantly created by walls formed by a single draped window, flanked by several doors that open, close and continually shift position. It’s as if we’re in an Alice in Wonderland funhouse of horror. She’s filled the sparsely furnished room with an inexplicable harvest of potatoes, which fill every flat surface available. Later those spuds are replaced by crow feathers, generously sprinkled around the domicile by the bizarre Mrs. Sands, as she steals everything that’s not tied down. Claire Chzran’s lighting design adds to the mounting tension, as do the frightening sounds created by Heath Hays.
The tiny cast is superb. Kirsten Fitzgerald, a familiar face both at Red Orchid, as well as other Chicago theatres, keeps this play on track as Rose. With an expert command of the lower English dialect, Ms. Fitzgerald is a modern-day Mrs. Lovett, continually frightened and perplexed by everything and everyone around her. H.B.Ward is excellent in the mostly silent role of Bert. Mierka Girten and Dano Duran are humorously and boisterously bizarre, while Anish Jethmalani is strong and officious as landlord, Mr. Kidd. Jo Jo Brown creates a scary presence as the mysterious Mr. Riley, who suffers dearly simply for delivering a message to Rose.
The story is confusing, yet exquisitely and impressively acted and produced. It does exactly what it sets out to do. This is a moody story that’s impossible to describe, yet horrifying to behold. It offers no answers. By the final curtain only questions are raised and each audience member’s interpretation of what he’s just experienced is as valid as his neighbor’s. This is a magnificent production, by a gifted director and her talented company, presenting a seldom-experienced Pinter classic that’s just made for these cold Autumn Chicago nights. A word of warning: leave a light on at home.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented September 29-November 13 by A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N Wells Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 312-943-8722 or by going to www.aredorchidtheatre.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.