The Cloak Room by Tracy Harris is the story of Mansel ( JaBen Early), a tormented man who has just lost his mother, Ruby ( K. Clare Johnson), his girlfriend, and a garage full of coats. It is through these coats that Mansel’s dark past and severe psychoses manifest themselves. Mansel talks to the coats, the coats talk back to him, he wears the coats and embodies the person who once owned them; occasionally the ghosts of these past owners physically attack Mansel, or perhaps Mansel attacks himself.
The complete lack of exposition and character development, along with the boundless nature of Mansel’s insanity leave the audience in the dark for most of the play. A thousand questions are asked but never answered. At the end of this emotionally charged piece the audience has no more information about the characters, the plot, or the meaning of the play.
JaBen Early’s anguished and fully committed performance was exceedingly one note, but this is a problem of playwrighting rather than acting. Early is a talented, powerful actor who needed to be reigned in by plot and direction. K. Claire Johnson also does her best to bring emotional resonance and life to a character that seems almost pointless. She is quirky and amusing in her first scene, even managing a few chuckles from the audience in this otherwise deeply depressing play.
The Cloak Room is an interesting concept- a man obsessed with his past who is visited by the deceased through their discarded clothes. However, this play is in need of some major rewrites to make this concept, and the author’s intent, clear to the audience.
See It: If you want to see two talented actors act their hearts out. You think you might be able to get something more out of it than I did.
Skip It: If you’re big on plot or character development. You hate loud noises or coats.
[Hunter Styles is a writer for DC Theatre Scene. It did not affect the objectivity of this review.]
The Cloak Room
Written by Tracy Harris
Directed by Hunter Styles
Produced by Bob Bartlett
Reviewed by Jessica Pearson
Running time: 70 minutes
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Did you see the show? What did you think?