BWW Reviews: Mildred's Umbrella Theater Company's ROME is Unsettling, Interesting Theatre

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BWW Reviews: Mildred's Umbrella Theater Company's ROME is Unsettling, Interesting Theatre
L to R: Bobby Haworth as Charles & Patricia Duran as
Fanny.

If you have ever wondered what theatre by (early in his career... a.k.a good) Chuck Palahniuk may be like, then Mildred's Umbrella Theater Company's World Premiere production of John Harvey's ROME is definitely for you. If you're looking for interesting theatre that will give you plenty to mull over, then ROME is also for you. If you are looking for theatre that will discomfort you to the core of your being while making you laugh at things that you generally wouldn't laugh at, then ROME is for you too. All in all, the experimental ROME was a risk well worth taking.

Sitting in the back row, I chose to ignore the dirty looks I got for chuckling about the dark murders of children being discussed on stage. I also chose to ignore the looks I got as I laughed when the cast discussed the merits, or lack thereof, in life and death. Yes, Houston audiences, ROME is dark and heavy, but many of these lines are meant to ping off your ribs and tickle your innermost darkness. Laughing is acceptable, and this play is a deliciously dark exploration of humanity's most vile and dark aspects.

Jennifer Decker directs the piece well. While the relationships of the characters are muddled in the writing, Jennifer Decker coaches the cast to make each and every person on the stage unique and interesting. We may not be sure who is related by blood to whom, but we all know they have a vested interest of some sort in the person dying behind the door. Also, each member of the cast has their own set of secrets that they are fighting to keep contained within their personhood. For me, this makes the unsettling dark comedy an exploration of how we truly never know anyone other than our selves, despite how tangible or intangible our bonds are.

BWW Reviews: Mildred's Umbrella Theater Company's ROME is Unsettling, Interesting Theatre
L to R: H.R. Bradford as George & Christie Guidry-Stryk
as Georgina.

As Charles, Bobby Haworth chills the audience with cold, crazy stares and his character's penchant for sexualizing young girls. Throughout the show, discussion of molested and murdered young girls occurs often, and we are left wondering if Bobby Haworth's Charles is guilty of the crimes. Fanny, played by Patricia Duran, yearns for attention from Charles and is disgusted by his lust for the girls she refers to as Faery Girls. H.R. Bradford's George is a fascinating study in overt sexuality. He plays his character in such a way that it seems that just about any conceivable sexual act fascinates George to some extent. Georgina, played by Christie Guidry-Stryk, is romantically involved with George and is playfully promiscuous. Like George, she enjoys a good snuff film, and as the play progresses we come to find out that her sex crazed brain is deftly attuned to the dark undercurrents of the production. Jon Harvey's Thomas and Amy Warren's Lauren are brusque and ensnared by their own libidinous and psychological games. As Joseph, Ronald Reeder creates an intriguing character who enjoys sketching people. Courtney Lomelo's Captain is an authoritative and imposing figure. Her arrival on the set begins the end of the production, and she takes full command of the play's abrupt finale. Darnea Olson and Lee Barker as the soldiers are intimidating in their silence and indifference.

I feel remiss not to address the plot of Jon Harvey's work; however, this show feels like one that asks you to ascribe your own meaning on the piece. Thus, I feel everyone walks away with a different idea of what they witnessed. The characters in the production are gathered in a drawing room to discuss the passing of an important figure in the family; however, their discussion, especially in the asides delivered to the audience, often depart from this topic and expose the unsavory layers of their personages. As the play progresses, the relationships between these characters and the passage of time seems at flux, as some events are described as taking days in one moment and weeks in another. Regardless, I was swept away by these solemn figures and the narcissistic and sadistic musings that melancholy brings out of them.

BWW Reviews: Mildred's Umbrella Theater Company's ROME is Unsettling, Interesting Theatre
L to R: Amy Warren as Lauren, H.R. Bradford as George
& Jon Harvey as Thomas.

On a technical level, the show is wonderfully impressive given the intimate venue it is performed in. A bay window has projections of a dismal, dreary moor and rain running down windowpanes for a majority of the show. Yet, as the characters reveal more of themselves and each other, Stephanie Saint Sanchez's projections shift to incorporate images that affect the audience on visceral level. Moreover, Andy McWilliam's has written an atmospheric and moody underscore that pristinely fits the play. Greg Starbird's Lighting Design mirrors the timbre of the music and the language, shrouding the stage in darkly hued washes.

Whether people love it or hate it, ROME is worth seeing because you've simply never seen anything like it before. The language and subject matter may be a lot for some people to endure. For me, it just made the play all the more enthralling and titillating. The play unravels in much the same way as a nihilistic post-postmodernist or post-millennialism novel would, and I've always enjoyed art that fits into these cultural veins.

Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.

The World Premiere of ROME, produced by Mildred's Umbrella Theater Company, runs at Studio 101, 1824 Spring Street, Houston, 77007 now through March 22, 2014. Performances are March 14, 17, 19, 21, and 22 at 8:00 p.m. For more information and tickets, please visit http://www.mildredsumbrella.com or call (832) 463-0409.

Photos by VJ Arizpe. Courtesy of Mildred's Umbrella Theater Company.

high res photos

BWW Reviews: Mildred's Umbrella Theater Company's ROME is Unsettling, Interesting Theatre
L to R: Bobby Haworth as Charles & Patricia Duran as Fanny.

BWW Reviews: Mildred's Umbrella Theater Company's ROME is Unsettling, Interesting Theatre
L to R: Patricia Duran as Fanny & Christie Guidry-Stryk as Georgina.

BWW Reviews: Mildred's Umbrella Theater Company's ROME is Unsettling, Interesting Theatre
L to R: H.R. Bradford as George & Christie Guidry-Stryk as Georgina.

BWW Reviews: Mildred's Umbrella Theater Company's ROME is Unsettling, Interesting Theatre
L to R: H.R. Bradford as George & Christie Guidry-Stryk as Georgina.

BWW Reviews: Mildred's Umbrella Theater Company's ROME is Unsettling, Interesting Theatre
L to R: Amy Warren as Lauren, H.R. Bradford as George & Jon Harvey as Thomas.

high res photos

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