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A CurtainUp Review
Night Is a Room

Night is a room
darkened for lovers
— William Carlos Williams
Night Is a Room
Ann Dowd, Dagmara Dominczyk, Bill Heck (Photo: T. Charles Erickson
Another Greek drama has come to town, but on a smaller scale and not as high profile as Ivo Van Hove's stripped down take on Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge. Naomi Wallace's Night Is a Room has just three characters but it does have scenery though designer Rachel Hauck has followed the stage direction to "keep things minimal so that scene changes might morph into other places/spaces."

The small cast is an authorial choice, not a case of an auteur-director eliminating characters from someone else's play as is the case with the Miller- à-la- Van hove revival. The same applies to Wallace's fast forwarding six years, from the big and shocking reveal in the first act's second scene to the concluding act.

I won't go into spoiler mode with chapter and verse about what that shocker entails. Per the promotional literature issued by the show's press agents, Ms.Wallace is using the Athenian connection to explore love's power to both ruin and remake our lives. And so, suffice it to say that my reference to it as a Greek tragedy is valid and that the play's exploration of potent but potentially ruinous love is likely to come off as a shocker even in this day of abundant on stage nudity, sex and uninhibited language.

It all starts off pleasantly enough with the two women — Dore (Ann Dowd) and Liana (Dagmara Dominczyk) meeting for the first time. Liana, the younger woman, is a chic and self-confident business executive; Dore, the older one, is less educated and well-off with an awkward, reticent manner. What brought these very different women together is that Liana's husband Marcus (Bill Heck, who doesn't show up until the next scene) is the child that a teen-aged Dore gave up for adoption and Liana, has tracked her down to arrange a meeting. She feels her husband, like a colleague at work, will be happy and more complete getting to know his mother,

That initial scenes contains numerous hints that Liana may be opening the pandora's box of Greek myth; for example, a burst balloon and a busted high heel. The next scene switches to Liana and Marcus's home, where Dore has been invited to tea. The tea turns into quite tempest.

To be honest, some of the interchanges, both verbal and physical, in that volatile and game changing second scene left me relieved that Ms. Wallace chose not to use exposition to tell us what happens in its aftermath. Though all three actors deliver all-out, no-holds-barred performances, I can't say that their characters drew me in enough to engage me fully or make me sympathize strongly with any of them. And, given the laughs with which some of the dialogue was met on the night I attended, neither was the audience. I'm not sure if the laughs were genuine amusement or a nervous reaction to some of the strong stuff heard and seen.

Besides cultivating the strong acting, director Bill Rauch and his design team, handily allow the story to unfold in three different locations. Costumer Clint Ramos dresses the actors in keeping with their personas. Fight director Thomas Schall ramps up the intensity of a final act moment when emotions run high enough to lead to violence.

Wallace is an intelligent writer much of whose work I've liked. Though she knows how to navigate between the poetic and erotic, I don't think she's adding anything especially insightful to the issues she's tackling here.

Night Is a Room by Naomi Wallace

Directed by Bill Rauch
Cast: Dagmara Dominczyk (Liana), Ann Dowd (Dore), Bill Heck (Marcus).
Rachel Hauck: Scenic design
Clint Ramos: Costume design
Jen Schriever: Lighting design
Leah Gelpe:Sound design
Charlotte Fleck: Dialect coach
Fight Director: Thomas Schall
Stage Manager: Cole P. Bonenberger
Running Time: 2 hours, including 1 intermission
Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre at the Pershing Square Signature Center
From 11/03/15; opening 11/22/15; closing 12/13/15-- extended before opening to 12/20/15 (which will be at regular prices.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 11/19/15 press preview
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