Chicago Theater Review: THE ROOM (A Red Orchid)

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by Lawrence Bommer on October 4, 2016

in Theater-Chicago


Presaging more darkness to follow, The Room, the first play by the late Harold Pinter, is an hour-long psychological thriller from 1957. Full of dour portent, it’s further proof that Halloween only needs humans for horror. Creepily directed by Dado at A Red Orchid Theatre, this six-person one-act practically patents Pinter’s tools of the trade: menace-packed pauses; sinister strangers barging in; unexplained rumblings; and unsought (and sometimes unseen) revenges, both psychological and physical.

anish-jethmalani-kirsten-fitzgerald-photo-by-michael-brosilowOn a cold and icy night Rose (Kirsten Fitzgerald, both haunted and scary) is again holed up in the title setting, a ramshackle refuge from the fearful outside world. Mutely reading the newspaper is her oddball husband Bert (HB Ward). The action, accompanied by Heath Hays’ sepulchral sound design, couldn’t be simpler: which means that in this domestic dump every departure from the “normal” gets noticed.

Complaining about the weather but characteristically content to be secure inside, Rose bustles about her spare kitchen, delivering to Bert a meal (mostly uncooked potatoes) that he barely acknowledges. Bert takes off in his car (as he will later describe it, a “feat of escape”). Rose isn’t alone long, however: First, her landlord Mr. Kidd (Anish Jethmalani) arrives seeking temporary respite from his own gnawing loneliness. Then, Mr. and Mrs. Sands–a very odd kleptomaniacal couple (Mierka Girten and Dano Duran)– come seeking lodgings for themselves; and it seems they’re after Rose’s.


Slamming and opening a series of doors to reach Rose’s sanctuary, an anguished Mr. Kidd returns to warn Rose of a disturbing stranger currently festering in the damp basement. The arrival of this lean and blind visitor (Jo Jo Brown), perhaps an emanation from Rose’s imagination or past (“Your dad tells you to come home!”), accompanies the return of Bert. A violent finale is followed by an instant curse.


Pinter leaves it to the awestruck audience to decide whether we’re seeing dreams come to life, fright fleshed out, or just a very troubling evening in a British backwater. However you interpret the dirty doings, there’s no doubting the urgency of Dado’s driven sextet. Fitzgerald exposes Rose’s pointless habits (or rigid rituals)—lighting lights that turn themselves off, rocking in her chair, peering out a dirty window—as emanations of the free-floating trepidation that “the room” cannot banish. The other five performances are sufficiently stylized to function equally as Rose’s projections or real people.

It’s a short sample of inchoate dread, this Room of doom. You may make no sense of it, but, as she always does for actors and scripts, Dado makes it matter.


anish-jethmalani-photo-by-michael-brosilowphotos by Michael Brosilow

The Room
A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells Ave
Thurs–Sat at 8; Sun at 3
ends on November 13, 2016
for tickets, call 312.943.8722 or visit A Red Orchid

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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