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BWW Review: Real Life Provides The Intriguing Script For Tina Satter's Tense Drama IS THIS A ROOM


On June 3rd, 2017, 25-year-old United States Air Force Intelligence Specialist Veteran Reality Winner was arrested due to evidence that she had leaked to online news source The Intercept a classified government report suggesting that Russian hackers had accessed a voting software supplier, enabling them to interfere in the 2016 United States presidential election.

Is This A Room
TL Thompson, Pete Simpson, Emily Davis
and Becca Blackwell (Photo: Carol Rosegg)

The violation of the Espionage Act occurred while Winner, still in possession of her security clearance, was working for a company contracted by the National Security Agency.

She is currently serving a sentence of five years and three months, though her lawyers began the process of applying for a pardon after President Trump's August 24th, 2018 tweet directed at then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, "Ex-NSA contractor to spend 63 months in jail over 'classified' information. Gee, this is 'small potatoes' compared to what Hillary Clinton did! So unfair Jeff, Double Standard."

Conceived by director Tina Satter, the tense and riveting docu-drama Is This A Room is a staged performance of the unedited text taken from the audio recorded by FBI agents as they questioned Reality Winner earlier that day at her Augusta, Georgia home.

"The reason we're here today," casually states Special Agent Justin C. Garrick, "is that we have a search warrant for your house... Do you know what that might be about?"

As played by Pete Simpson, Garrick seems friendly and sympathetic as he engages Winner (excellent, subtly-textured Emily Davis) in casual chit-chat about her pets (a cat and a dog she's keeping in foster care), her weight-lifting regiment and their mutual appreciation for firearms. (She keeps a pink AR-15 in the house.)

His partner, Special Agent R. Wallace Taylor (TL Thompson), is terse and serious, while a jovial fellow referred to as "unknown male" (Becca Blackwell) is occupied with his task of searching Winner's home and car.

There's no plot, in the traditional sense, just the fascinating conflict between the two agents, who, while continually reminding their suspect that she's under no obligation to talk, are trying to convince her to say what they need her to say, and Winner, who is trying to determine what the men already know and how she can give them information without incriminating herself.

Is This A Room
Becca Blackwell and Emily Davis
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)

While there is never any physical contact, Satter frequently shows the unnerving visual of armed men getting into the young woman's face and invading her personal space. Winner is often shown as seeming confused and frightened, but keep in mind she is decorated intelligence veteran. While her surface reactions may be legitimate, Davis also suggests the possibility that she, like her accusers is practicing psychological manipulation.

Where sensitive material is redacted from the transcript, sound designer Lee Kinney and lighting designer Thomas Dunn fill in the gaps with moments that can either heighten the tension or provide a bit of relief from it. Set designer Parker Lutz places the 70-minute continuous scene on a long, non-specific playing area, keeping harsh focus on the words and actions.

Satter's production aims for objectivity, though it's easy to surmise what the emotional leanings would be for the majority of members of an Off-Broadway audience. Would the piece feel different played to audiences in locales of contrasting political biases? Sometimes real life provides a very intriguing script.

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