AISLE SAY San Francisco


By David Hare
Directed by Michael Butler
Presented by and at Theatre on San Pedro Square
29 N. San Pedro St., San Jose, CA / (408) 283-7142

Reviewed by Judy Richter

David Hare's "The Blue Room" is all about sex, most of it extramarital. San Jose's Theatre on San Pedro Square, less than 2 years old, scored a bit of a coup by securing West Coast debut rights to the 1998 work, best known for Nicole Kidman's nude scene in the London and New York productions. Ably directed by Michael Butler, the San Jose production features two fine actors -- Jonathan Rhys Williams and Stephanie Gularte. Each plays five characters in a series of 10 scenes that start with "The Girl and the Cab Driver" and end with "The Aristocrat and the Girl." The characters go from one sexual encounter to another, treating each one mainly as recreation or a power trip rather than anything reminiscent of romance.

As scenes shift, the actors move the set pieces with a flourish and gracefully change clothes while silhouetted behind translucent doors (set design by Ching-Yi Wei and Butler, lighting by Peter Maradudin, costumes by Lisa Pontier de Mattei and sound by Bryce Dumont). Despite the best efforts of the actors, director and designers, though, the play itself seems hollow. The trysts become repetitious, and it's difficult to care about any of the characters. Still, the actors' ability to change characters and accents so quickly is admirable.

Williams' characters range from a Cockney cab driver to a politician and slightly foppish aristocrat as well as a youthful student and a full-of-himself playwright. He also plays guitar and sings "The Blue Room," which director Butler wrote for this production. Gularte's characters include a young prostitute, reserved au pair, middle-aged wife, 17-year-old model and in-control actress. Both actors are convincing in all of the guises.

The theater is upstairs in a former comedy club at bustling San Pedro Square, which offers an array of dining choices and ample parking. The theater has exposed brick walls, open-beamed ceilings and flexible seating, in this case allowing for a thrust stage. In back is a bar that's curtained off when the play begins, but patrons are allowed to take drinks to their seats. The overall experience is pleasant. I'd willingly return both for the venue and the quality of the work.

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