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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.
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
$15 to $60. Through March 7.
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