Reviewing Theatre For Over 40 Years
“Welcome to the White Room” in Hollywood: Satisfying Intellectual Exercise
As Trish Harnetiaux’s “Welcome to the White Room” began, in its west coast premiere production at Theatre of NOTE in Hollywood, my first reaction was to think of Jean Paul Sartre’s “No Exit”: three people are placed in a room without any real understanding of what they are to do there. But while Sartre’s puzzle is an existential view of hell as a place where characters who cannot stand each other are condemned to spend eternity together, “Welcome to the White Room” proves more about challenge and manipulation.
Indeed, who are these oddly formal, comparatively superficial beings whose actions often seem out of their own control?
It appears they are scientists of some sort. A lab coated Mr. Paine (Chris Gardner), Jennings (Sarah Lilly) and Ms White (Sierra Marcks) formally introduce themselves, and introduce their various odd and disruptive inventions. Yet, this seems only some segment of a larger challenge – one they are constantly worried about doing within an unknown time frame. One watches their interplay, what appear to be the lingering effects of experiments, the ways they work to figure out their purpose (guided by occasional instructions fed through a slot in the locked door), and the ways in which they analyze what happens to their compatriots. By the time they are joined by a fourth (Reuben Uy), light begins to dawn.
Director Megan A. McGuane keeps this short but intense play active and engaging from start to finish on Amanda Knehans’ small, beautiful, oddly intricately simple set. Gardner, Lilly and Marcks find ways to derive very specific aspects of humanity in their distinctly artificial characters, bringing humor and fascination to the storyline along the way. It’s an actor’s play, as everything which makes it works comes down to creating the atmosphere and structure of oddity and cohesion the script demands.
This very artificiality is underscored by the lack of it in Uy’s fourth member, whose appearance cracks the code of the thing. To say more is to be guilty of the same crime as those who read the end of a mystery before reading the puzzle, but suffice it to say it provides a distinct commentary on isolation and the power of suggestion on the human mind.
“Welcome to the White Room” is challenging and fascinating to watch. The performances are very strong, and the results prove compelling. In an era which often uses elaborate technology to enhance a theatrical experience, this underscores the entertainment value in a production focused on a single set, solid acting, and puzzle which will take a while even after the play to digest. This is theater of the intellect, and thus a particular kind of refreshing.
What: “Welcome to the White Room” When: through September 11, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays Where: Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd. (just north of Sunset) in Hollywood How Much: $25 general, $20 students and seniors Info: (323) 856-8611 or http://www.theatreofnote.com