David Hare's play, "The Blue Room", explores no new ground. The assertion that sex can be empty and unsatisfying, yet a well that people go to over and over in hopes of emotional sustenance is nothing new. Milan Kundera wrestles with this issue throughout his entire oeuvre. We can even head back to Chaucer if we want an Old World take on the subject. Film is full of these couplings that dissipate like cotton candy in the mouths of the participants. So what is Hare doing that's new? Or rather, what did Arthur Schnitzler (whose play "La Ronde" Hare reworked) do that was new? I'm not sure that I have an answer to that question.
The structure of the play is interesting, divided into ten vignettes. These vignettes hold only two characters each, a man and a woman (all the characters played by the same two actors). These scenes are linked by a single common character. The play begins with "The Girl and The Cab Driver." Scene 2 stars "The Cab Driver and The Au Pair," Scene 3 "The Au Pair and The Student," and so on until Scene 10, which circles back with "The Aristocrat and The Girl." Kirsten Frantzich (The Girl, The Au Pair, The Married Woman, et. al.) and Kris L. Nelson (all the male roles) are in sum, superb.
There are characters that are more fully inhabited than others. Frantzich is particularly compelling as The Married Woman and The Actress, whereas Nelson plays The Cab Driver and The Politician with an intuitiveness. It is in the roles that lean toward adolescence that the two stumble occasionally; the substance (or, rather more exactly, the insubstantiveness) of The Girl, The Student, and The Model are never entirely realized. A level of self-consciousness accompanies these turns. Frantzich and Nelson are by no means unconvincing; they simply fail to achieve the roundness of the other characters -- in other words, a critique by contrast. The single thread of the scene remains the emptiness of emotionally disconnected couplings. This emptiness haunts every scene of the play.
Throughout the work, however, I suspected that there was something about this single thread, the texture that would set it apart and act as the raison d'être, that was not quite reached. In the interactions between The Aristocrat and The Actress, and The Girl and The Aristocrat, I sensed a strangeness that might have ripped the play from its own inevitability. The conclusions of the most of the scenes are predictable -- each coupling is ill-fated and, for the audience, the engagement turns on following the trajectory of each disappointment. With the scenes involving The Aristocrat and, to a lesser degree, The Married Woman, there exists something surprising and differently landscaped that suggests deeper and darker motivations -- rather than different levels of interest and desire. But I think that the limitations of the scenes exist in the play's writing and not in its execution. If anything, it seems that Frantzich and Nelson lifted the play out of the mechanism of idea.
Bain Boehlke, who repeatedly stages intriguing theater, uses a screen showing the clothing changes backstage during the scene interludes. This raises the level of intimacy on stage, forcing the audience into a more dynamic role with the actors. And the Spartan sets, useful for the frequent scene changes for practical reasons, serve the work well. The lighting, true to the play's title, heighten the austerity of the performance.
So, I suppose I am back to question of newness and have to admit that, as the curtain lowered, I felt the cotton candy dissolve some on my palate. But not entirely.
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