Review: Eden Theater's "The Room Plays" Bring Theater Into The Bedroom

The Bedroom Plays

Presented by Eden Theater Company via Zoom, June 9th, 2020

Full performance available via YouTube:

The Man in the Fuchsia Mask

Written by Jake Brasch

Directed by Jordan Gemaehlich


Written by Cassandra Paras

Directed by Byron Anthony

In a Bubble, With Only You

Written by Tracy Carns

Directed by Diane Davis

With the COVID-19 pandemic ongoing, theater has had to search for logistical solutions for an art form partly defined by audiences and performers sharing the same space, such as presenting recordings, socially distanced versions, or readings of existing works or planned productions. By now, however, we are also starting to see theater reckon with how to respond artistically to life under the virus, and the live Zoom performances of The Room Plays from Eden Theater Company (ETC) are among the vanguard of this artistic response. The Room Plays consists of three trios of site-specific short plays by emerging New York City playwrights that arose from conversations about quarantine and isolation, with each playwright choosing a genre and theme. The first group, The Bedroom Plays, was performed on June 9th, and The Living Room Plays and The Bathroom Plays will be presented on July 9th and August 6th, respectively. The free performance of The Bedroom Plays had been intended to raise funds via donation for ETC, but given recent events, audiences were encouraged at the top of the show (and with an acknowledgment that privilege has doubtless benefited ETC itself), to instead support the vital efforts of protesters by donating to the Equal Justice Initiative—a great recommendation whether you attend The Room Plays or not. (You can still also donate to ETC through the company's website.)

Audrey Rapoport and Byron Anthony. Image courtesy Emily Owens PR

The Man in the Fuchsia Mask, which opens The Bedroom Plays, most directly addresses life under lockdown in NYC, and, depending on your personality, it may be the most relatable. New Yorker and restaurant critic Miriam (Audrey Rapoport) has been reduced to lying in bed and consuming bland potato chips and room-temperature rosé, leading her to ponder whether one can actually miss the everyday annoyances of living with millions of other people. For a self-declared misanthrope, is the dull nullity of isolation worse than the presence (and potential satisfaction) of anger in dealing with others? Such questions are intensified when the titular man (Byron Anthony)—whose mask is a Pussy Riot-style balaclava rather than the PPE that you might expect, lending him a thematically useful anyman quality— challenges her self-presentation. The play makes clever use of Miriam diving under her blanket as the equivalent of a blackout scene transition, and Rapoport adds hints of vulnerability to an entertainingly caustic and profane performance, while Anthony's man in the mask makes for an at times borderline menacing foil.

The next bedrooms that we visit belong to Tom (Matt Pilcie) and his pregnant wife Jabet (playwright Cassandra Paras). In Daēva, Janet has been occupying that bedroom alone for a month and a half while her husband, who was collecting artifacts, has been stuck in Australia (her reminder during their video call to thank the people with whom he has been staying briefly invokes the sort of kindnesses that have taken place the world over in the past several months). Tom, though, has finally managed to book passage home, even if it does involve a ship in addition to a flight. Janet, meanwhile, has cleaned out their closet. (There is suggestion there of reflection and learning more about one another as an effect of isolation.) Daēva is an extremely fun entry that takes great advantage of the Zoom format, with Pilcie and Paras making a very believable couple, and it goes in an unexpected direction, so we don't want to say much more except that viewers should make sure not to look away. Also, there's a brief appearance by a puppy.

Simone Grossman and Robbie Gemahlich. Image courtesy Emily Owens PR
The program concludes with another married couple, in In a Bubble, With Only You, a phrase that nicely sums up the experience of many city-dwelling couples during the pandemic. Whether that bubble is where the members of that couple want to be is an open question, and the question at the heart of this play. Ray (Robbie Gemaehlich) is on the inside of a motel room and his bride, the perhaps allusively named Stella (Simone Grossman) is on the outside, and Ray intends to keep it that way. Why that is that case and what brought these two people to this pointincluding the differences between what we think we want, what we say we want, and what we actually want, or find out that we actually wantare revealed as the couple communicates through the closed door. Grossman sympathetically grounds Stella's, let's say, atypical actions, and Gemaehlich unveils a different aspect of Ray at the conclusion that both is reflected in a change in the camera's perspective and makes a nice bookend with the similar moment at the end of The Man in the Fuchsia Mask. That In a Bubble also ends with a sense of the future as yet open to definition seems appropriate both to The Room Plays and to our current moment more broadly.

The trio of 10-minute works that comprise The Bedroom Plays make canny and creative use of their intimate settings and the limitations of web cameras, making a well-acted virtue of necessity to greatly entertaining effect. We look forward to seeing what will happen in the living room.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards


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