Written and Directed by Jeremy Bloom and Brian Rady
Music by Catherine Brookman
Produced by Rady&Bloom Collective Playmaking
Off Off Broadway, New Play with Music
Runs through 6.12.15
New Ohio Theatre, 154 Christopher Street
by Keith Paul Medelis on 6.1.15
The cast of The Upper Room. Photo by James Matthew Daniel.
BOTTOM LINE: The Upper Room is a creative, musical, mysterious fantasia of goodness musing on the alluring back-to-the-land movement and climate change.
I left The Upper Room in a haze, projected into some sort of beautiful trance I hadn’t realized I’d found myself in. No, it’s not weed or psychedelic mushrooms. But it’s the next best thing.
The focus here is not on narrative. Instead The Upper Room is a beautiful and foreboding meditation on humanity existing in a world that is much larger than ourselves. If we are to only grasp certain elements of this story that feels correct as our feeble human minds can process so little. The moon in all its scientific knowns remains magical in the night sky. And that is what The Upper Room brings us, a shining beacon of unexplored new territory to come.
If we are to focus on the plot, this is a group of nine members of some commune, known only as The Upper Room, that has recently suffered some shrinking numbers in their utopic, sustainable community. A pair of sandals from a lost follower is cremated as if she has somehow disappeared. There are other bits of the unexplained here as well. Seamus (played with empathic uncertainty by Govind Kumar) becomes alarmingly thirsty with a sickness he can only understand as turning into a fish. And there’s a mysterious, frightening, and hilarious mask of a walrus floating around this place, occupied at various times by different members of the community. I like that I don’t always understand why it's there though it seems to serve a kind of dynamic, Ionesco-inspired, symbol of a frightening change on the horizon.
What’s really rather extraordinary is the haunting music written and performed by Catherine Brookman, and accompanied by the rest of the company. With a barreling voice like nothing you’ve heard before, she’s one part instrument and one part singer. It’s truly powerful. And this entire cast sounds beautiful together as well. There’s a kind of vapid, unforced, Bushwick-y quality to them that feels perfect for this connected but unreachable world outside of our bustling metropolis.
Rady&Bloom’s husband and husband team is getting quite the press now after a recent article in American Theater magazine. And it seems their residency with the New Ohio is just getting started. You’ll want to seek out more after The Upper Room. Their direction is crisp and simple. A large, circular, raked table (according to the program also designed by them) becomes a forest floor, a hole in the ground opening into a magical watery cave, and a kind of mountain with little effort and only a little help from sound (by Mark Van Hare) and lighting (Jay Ryan). And if you want to see the many possibilities of the overhead projector you grimaced at as a kid, you’ll also want to see this play. Lena, played with comic genius by the amazing Heather Thiry, masters her duty as projection narrator with an all too sincere, instructive tone.
I won’t spoil the whole, wonderful ending but it’s not til this time that we understand some gravity of the play’s title. Lena says, “It was complicated to try to live a life -- in which…to deal with relationships, to understand people, to understand money. From so far down below, life is so small a thing.” We’d like to be able to feel the power of what The Upper Room has in store but we must deal with far more terrestrial matters -- melting icebergs, acidifying oceans, and other general hardships of our massively consuming life in the lower world.
(The Upper Room plays at the New Ohio Theatre, 154 Christopher Street, through June 12, 2015. Performances are Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8. Tickets are $18 and $15 for students and seniors and are available at newohiotheatre.org or by calling 888.596.1027.)