By Morgan McGuire; Directed by Jenny Beth Snyder
Produced by The Shelter
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 7.30.16
TBG Theatre, 312 West 36th Street
by Adrienne Urbanski on 7.21.16
Michael Kingsbaker and Meghan E. Jones in The Red Room. Photo by Michael Bernstein.
BOTTOM LINE: Powerful acting performances, along with a compelling script, make this show worth seeing.
It is commonly said that a crisis reveals a person’s true colors, a truism expressed in full force by the new play The Red Room. As the play opens, the Hodge family’s oldest sister Kate (Meghan E. Jones) is trying to fend off sexual advances from her husband Patrick (Michael Kingsbaker) and demanding that no one check in on her bawling infant daughter, in the hopes of training her to cry less. Kate's insistence that others strictly adhere to her rule foreshadows her need to be in charge and her belief that her view is the only correct one. As the other family members enter, including Kate's cancer-ridden father (Thomas F. Walsh), her sister Ceeci (Jessica O’Hara-Baker) and Ceeci's boyfriend Derek (Rob Brinkmann), we get a sense of the bittersweet cajoling common in families. But then we learn about something less common: over a game of cards, Kate's brother John (John DiMino) inadvertently reveals to Derek the story of their murdered brother Tommy, and the fact that at the upcoming sentencing for his murderer, the family is expected to testify.
Each of the family members has been painfully agonizing over what to say in court, and beneath their light-hearted wisecracks lurks a fear about their decisions: should they forgive their brother’s killer or ask the court for the maximum sentence? When Kate finds her father’s statement on his desk, she realizes that his words go against her desire to seek the maximum. She angrily screams at her father, dismissing his defenses, and promises that she will hate her father forever if he reads the statement. The stress of their heated argument causes her father to suffer a fatal heart attack. Now, with not only a court sentencing but also a funeral before them, the Hodge family is even further torn apart; as their battles rage on we see Kate’s endless need for control while the other family members open up their hidden wounds and excavate bitter memories.
The Red Room succeeds in creating a resonate portrait of a family torn apart by crisis and grief. Guided by Jenny Beth Snyder, each cast member makes the volatile emotions erupting throughout this production feel authentic and powerful. Meghan E. Jones in particular manages to make an often unlikable character seem worthy of empathy, and her actions understandable. Morgan McGuire’s script authentically captures the pitfalls of siblings struggling for power and vindication in the face of great loss. The scenes that unfold are well-framed by a set (designed by Christopher Bowser) that glows via a red-lit trim and a glowing fireplace, both of which reflect and foreshadow the anger running through this work. Some greater discussion of the brother’s murder and its particulars might have strengthened the plot and emotion of this production, but even as is The Red Room explores important questions related to justice and loss. The Red Room is a powerful play that burns brightly with rage and despair.
(The Red Room plays at TBG Theatre, 312 West 36th Street, 3rd floor, through July 30, 2016. The running time is 1 hour 30 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8; and Sundays at 2. Tickets are $20 and are available at theshelternyc.org or by calling 866-811-4111.)
The Red Room is by Morgan McGuire. Directed by Jenny Beth Snyder. Set Design is by Christopher Bowser. Lighting Design is by Joe Cantalupo. Sound Design is by Aidan Meyer. Stage Manager is Kristy Bodall.
The cast is Meghan E. Jones, Jessica O'Hara Baker, John DiMino, Thomas F. Walsh, Shelia Stasack, Michael Kingsbaker, Rob Brinkmann, and Orissa Henderson.