Perhaps Four Rooms Waking means the same thing as Four Plays in the Same Room Running at Roughly the Same Time. I hope so; otherwise I went to the wrong play. What I saw, on the four-sided stage at Studio Four (which was on the fourth floor of Studio Theater) were four separately staged playlets, intercut with each other. Two of them were pretty good, but I wish I didn’t have to interrupt my viewing of them to see all that other stuff.
My favorite was set in 1955 Algiers, at the apex of the FLN’s war to rid the country of its French colonizers. Leila Nadir (Erika Rose), an Algerian who was educated in Paris, has done a phenomenally risky thing – having found a French soldier (Adam Jonas Segaller) suffering from significant wounds, she has taken him back to her apartment so that he could recover. But when her close friend Nassima (Annie Preis) is killed in a French attack, Leila no longer knows whether she will be a protector or a hostage-taker. Much of the rest of the play is dialogue on the subject between Leila and the soldier, and most of that dialogue is intelligent if a little predictable. The thing that gives this play its zing is the quality of the acting: Rose and Segaller are terrific, and their rapid-fire contest of ideas and emotions propels the brief play forward, vigorously and gracefully.
I also liked a playlet set twelve years later in a bar on New York City’s Christopher Street. In this piece, a young lesbian from North Carolina (Preis) refuses to admit her sexual orientation, with disastrous results for at least one of the bar’s patrons (John-Michael Marrs) The story is notable for a fine performance by Daniel Kublick as the annoying but important actor Jack Smith, who appeared in some Andy Warhol films.
Two other works are more problematical. One set in 1964 Oxford (none of the pieces are named) is essentially a monologue by Zoe Hanscombe (Ronee Penoi, who also directed the entire production), an archeologist who has just accepted a teaching position. Hanscombe is dictating a narrative which she presumes will be typed by someone, some day. It begins with some observations about a recent dig but soon digresses into a story about her love affair with a student from Kenya. For reasons not clear from the text, she has come to associate the Kenyan independence movement with the murder of her husband in South Africa by thieves, and to associate both with an Easter Island aboriginal society. This, as one might imagine, was not good for her relationship with her lover. On top of everything else, Hanscombe is ill, presumably to make us more concerned for her. The whole thing seems a little incoherent to me, but it is ameliorated by Rose as “the Birdman”, a silent and athletic aboriginal dancer who periodically haunts Hanscombe’s office while she is dictating.
The final piece is set in 1975 Havana, and involves Cuba’s benighted effort to thrust itself into the Angolan civil war. A young poet (Marrs), serving in the Cuban army, receives a horrible wound, and his girlfriend (Preis) means to make him shed his bitterness and embrace life. If there’s more to this play, I missed it.
I also missed any overarching theme which would justify alternating back and forth among these four pieces. This is a very strong cast, and playwrights Julia Harman Cain and Joshua Williams are gifted writers. I hope they had a reason for presenting these plays in bits and pieces, mixed up with each other, as they have. If the answer is “because we can”, they should reconsider what they’ve done.
- Running Time: 120 minutes, with one very brief intermission
- Tickets: Four Rooms Waking
- Remaining Shows: Thurs, July 24 at 6 . Sat, July 26 at 9 . Sun, July 27 at 6
- Where: Studio Theatre Stage 4, 1501 14th Street, NW