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LETTERS TO EDITOR
by Les Gutman
If you've ever thought it might be fun to be a fly on a motel room wall, Tom Noonan will give you a chance to find out. Chairs line the walls of his newly-rebuilt Paradise Theater (mostly in a single row); the seating demarcates the walls of the inexpensive chain motel room in which the play is set.
Two things are most notable about Noonan's work. The first is his process: his plays are in the nature of a trial run for his films. He has done well by this play-to-film approach in both media. The Wife (originally called Wifey), won an Obie; What Happened Was... won the best film prize from the Sundance Grand Jury. Wang Dang will also be filmed, most likely with the same cast and dialogue as the stage version.
The second is his style. Ironically perhaps, it's not at all "cinematic," tilting instead to the opposite extreme. The action takes place entirely in real time, and in real space. The set is a precise replication (minus the walls which align with the audience's eyes) of the motel room: not only is the motel furniture "real," it is placed where it "really" would be. (Action takes place in the midst of the furniture, not in front of it.) There is no stage lighting; only the ambient light of the motel room lights is provided. There is no background music.
Also distinctive is Noonan's dialogue, which is sometimes jarringly real. Speech is tentative -- there are no glib, well-considered statements. Characters speak while seemingly processing and absorbing what others are saying, while their own thoughts are still being processed. This is a mixed blessing: as effective and intriguing as it can be, it can also be tedious. Such is reality; characters can be at a loss for words and the playwright doesn't provide them or edit out the pregnant pauses.
Noonan's well crafted story operates on at least three levels. Each embellishes the others:
There is not a great deal to say about the sets and costumes. This is a play in which creativity in these crafts should not show, and that it does not denotes success.
A word to the wise: This is a show for which arriving late or leaving early (or temporarily) could be awkward. A program note reminds in big letters that it lasts one hour and 40 minutes with no intermission.