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Broadway Review "The Blue Room"

This article was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on February 10, 1999. All rights reserved.

The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together.

`All’s Well That Ends Well,’ William Shakespeare.

A prostitute has sex with a cab driver who has sex

with an au pair who has sex with a student who has sex… and so on.

In ways, means, and circumstances that are too boring to relate, there

are 10 couples who "do it" (during black outs) in David Hare’s

surprisingly dull and gimmicky play, "The Blue Room." The

gimmick is the use of an off-stage buzzer that times the copulations.

If this was the equivalent of "The Gong Show," we should all

have been spared about 90 minutes of the interminable 100-minute play.

That all the characters are played like the one-dimensional generic

types they are, by Australia-born film star Nicole Kidman and British

stage actor Iain Glen, suggests a certain tour de force de deux. That

both actors appear once in the all-together provides its voyeuristic

appeal. Consider, however, the written content of "The Blue Room"

as no feather in the cap for Hare, who has done far better work in

his worst (think "The Judas Kiss") plays. The one interesting

couple at the center of Hare’s infinitely more compelling play "Skylight"

generated more steam than do all the 10 couples in this frigid effort.

If each pair is not exactly considered in competition with each other,

the pair who garner the laughs takes the shortest time to complete

the act, while the pair who get applause take the longest (2 hours

20 minutes) time. Lest I stray from the point of "The Blue Room,"

it is Kidman’s pink and perfect be-still-my-heart derriere that makes

its brief yet hardly distinguished appearance near the end of the

performance, and not the nude cartwheel skillfully performed by Glen,

that gives this play its raison d’etre.

Freely adapted by Hare from Austrian playwright Arthur Schnitzler’s

"Reigen," known more familiarly as "La Ronde," the

title of director Max Ophuls’ (very fine and wry) classic 1950 French

film version, "The Blue Room" is, except for its contemporary

characters and London setting, not far removed from the source. That

Schnitzler, also a doctor, would use his play as an ironic and humorous

lesson on class distinction and social mores and, at the same time,

on the transfer of syphilis, was considered daring and not proper

for production at the time it was written.

Although I missed seeing and have only listened to "Hello Again,"

a musical version of "La Ronde" by Michael John LaChiusa that

bridged the action from the past to the present, it sounds like a

more perceptive consideration of Schnitzler’s theme.

Hare’s updated variation on the daisy chain of indiscretions, liaisons,

and infidelities has its place in light of the current health crisis.

But even as competently and enthusiastically performed by only two

actors, the play is never more than a roundelay of tiresome talk and

seemingly endless encounters. The makeover of Schnitzler’s turn-of-the-century

types into mod-Brits doesn’t, in itself, offer any new twists or currently

savvy temperament to the play’s already acknowledged thesis.

Actually the dialogue is quaint enough often enough to make the characters

sound as if they are out of their time. It is the quick-silver make-over,

i.e. costume and wig changes for both Kidman and Glen that are the

productions most amusing elements.

Director Sam Mendes of Donmar Warehouse fame (where both "Cabaret"

and "The Blue Room" originated) keeps the action moving along

swiftly within designer Mark Thompson’s surreal-ized neon-framed bright

blue room, and in perfect sync with the audiences growing restlessness.

Publicity made this play a sellout, but the paucity of dramatic interest

makes it a cop-out. H

— Simon Saltzman

The Blue Room, Cort Theater, 138 East 48 Street, 212-239-6200.

$15 to $60. Through March 7.

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