Created and Choreographed by Annie-B Parson; based on Five Sisters by Guy de Cointet with additional text from Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov
Produced by Big Dance Theater
Off Broadway, Dance/Theater
Runs through 12.5.21
BAM Fisher, 321 Ashland Place
by Asya Gorovits on 12.2.21
(L-R) Elizabeth DeMent, Kate Moran, Michelle Sui, and Myssi Robinson in The Mood Room. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.
BOTTOM LINE: Annie-B Parson magically blends movement and spoken word in a story about self-care fanatics from 80’s California.
The Mood Room, the latest work renowned Brooklyn-based choreographer Annie-B Parson, is a trip. Part dance, part “spoken opera,” it is based mostly on Guy de Cointet's 1982 play Five Sisters, with occasional excerpts from Chekhov’s classic Three Sisters, and even a couple of lines from The Cherry Orchard (if I am not mistaken). It is set in 1980s California, where five sisters reunite in their childhood home, represented by the beige rectangle of a nearly empty stage covered by a lush carpet (set design is by Lauren Machen). White fringe curtains hang as a backdrop and frame a couple of carpeted staircases leading nowhere, giving a hint to the scale of this family residence. But if you still couldn't tell this is an upper-class Californian lifestyle, this house has a room called “the mood room.”
The mood room remains unseen, but characters retire into it periodically. Maria, who developed an allergy to the sun after her “vacation on a remote island,” finds her only refuge there. Iwan places her red painting there. A workaholic Dolly takes a nap. But there is no reason to suspect that the sisters’ life offstage is any more meaningful than what we see. Sisters come and go, engaging in conversation with each other, mostly discussing their doctors, dieting, the benefits of rest, and their youthful and radiant looks. They sound like a mixture of advertising and quotes of “influencers” of the time (one of them is even mentioned by name—a gossip columnist Rona Barrett). So when they occasionally switch to communicating in bird-like sounds, it doesn’t make much of a difference.
Enchanting choreography by Annie-B Parson is what makes The Mood Room so mesmerizing. As the sisters talk, they engage in a dialogue with their entire body, adding movement to the verbal communication and emphasizing the alienation effect. It looks like a made-up sign language that only five sisters can understand, but does it convey meaning, or is it just empty movement? For that matter, does their dialogue convey any meaning? “No one changes; no one learns anything” says Annie-B Parson in her director’s note. Yet it is impossible to divert one’s eyes from the hypnotizing performance, greatly enhanced by the superb lighting design (by Joe Levasseur).
In The Mood Room, the critique of the budding self-care movement of the Reagan Era is apparent. The endless navel-gazing seems pointless and unfortunately rings true today. The predominantly beige and white set, as well as Baille Younkman and Samantha Mcelrath's whimsical costumes, are of the exact same "trendy" color scheme dominating today's most popular Instagram stories. A projection screen obscured by a fringe curtain (video design is by Keith Skretch) shows actresses engaged in actions similar to those on stage, sometimes wearing slightly different costumes, performing in a similar, white-box room. “Am I me or am I double?” says one of the sisters. Nowadays, a lot of us live in two parallel realities, online and offline, so this question has a new edge. The Mood Room is a healthy reminder that, when self-care becomes a lifestyle and the individual focuses exclusively on their own person, they are at risk of losing themself entirely.
(The Mood Room plays at BAM Fisher, 321 Ashland Place, through December 5, 2021. The running time is 1 hour with no intermission. Proof of vaccination and masks required. Performances are Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30, Friday at 7 and 9, Saturday at 7:30, and Sunday at 3 and 7. Tickets start at $35. For tickets and more information visit bam.org.)
The Mood Room is created by Annie-B Parson, based on Five Sisters by Guy de Cointet with additional text from Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov. Music by Holly Herndon. Sound Design and Recomposition by Mark degli Antoni. Set Design by Lauren Machen. Lighting Design by Joe Levasseur. Costume Design by Baille Younkman and Samantha Mcelrath. Video Design by Keith Skretch. Produced by Big Dance Theater and co-commissioned by The Kitchen, BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music), Carolina Performing Arts/UNC-Chapel Hill, the Walker Art Center, the Wexner Arts Center, and with funds from the Starry Night Fund.
The cast is Elizabeth DeMent, Kate Moran, Michelle Sui, and Myssi Robinson, and Michelle Sui.