Review: WELCOME TO THE WHITE ROOM to Step Inside Your Imagination
As someone who has never been much of a gamer, other than being a devotee of Words With Friends, it's difficult for me to understand how anyone could sit in front of a screen with a controller in hand for hours on end playing or designing video games. But I know people do it, often sitting side-by-side to share the experience with a best friend also into the imaginary world of avatars able to do the most incredible things.
Now playing at Theatre of NOTE is the west coast premiere of WELCOME TO THE WHITE ROOM, written by Trish Harnetiaux and directed with constant, attention-getting movement by Megan A McGuane. In the small, black box theater, we discover Ms. White (Sierra Marcks), Mr. Paine (Chris Gardner), and Jennings (Sarah Lilly) shortly after they have arrived in a completely white room set designed by Amanda Knehans. It soon becomes apparent they have not met before nor do any of them know the reason they have been brought into this strange place. As the one-act play unfolds, we follow their journey as they attempt to figure out exactly what they are meant to do and the reason for their entrapment in such a strange place.
With each character first dressed in a white lab coat, it would be easy to think they are medical doctors doing secret research. But soon you will sense that is not the case. Through a slot opening in a door upstage center, deliveries arrive to forward the action: there are the letters that only Ms. White can read and the arrival of The Last Deck of Cards in the World which the three soon devour. There are also The Three Devices which must be figured out and operated, along with the constant advancement of the levels of personal involvement. And with the characters static movements and monotone vocal delivery, it soon becomes apparent these are not human beings but characters playing out a game in the white room of their creator's imagination.
Somewhere between throwing a party, suppressing sexual tensions, and dancing a violent tango, this senseless world manages to summon its creator into the mix when the door opens and Patrick (Reuben Uy) falls inside. Dressed in white the same as his characters, we soon learn this puppeteer of a man has been sitting on his couch with his friend Max creating and playing this video game for weeks, with each character reflecting what has been going on in his own life, such as Mr. Paine sensing he had chicken and broccoli for dinner (Gardner's random chicken cackling is a riot of movement) or Ms. White being the only one able to read the cryptic notes slipped through the door slot.
I have to admit that at first, I truly believed when Patrick described his best friend Max that he was a dog sitting patiently next to his master on the couch as he played video games for hours at a time. But when the darker aspects of the play took hold near the end, I could not imagine that what the characters asked Patrick to do in order to escape the white room could possibly have been aimed at an innocent and loving pet. And I assume that action alone has the play billed as a dark comedy.
All the actors do commendable jobs with their roles, making each an interesting conundrum to try and figure out. After donning an incredibly sexy red dress (thank you costumer Sarah Figoten Wilson who sticks with a white, black and red theme) which arrives through the door slot, Marcks and Gardner, and then Marcks and Uy, dance seductive tangos thanks to dance choreography by Nancy Dobbs Owen, perhaps representing the woman Patrick desires but can never obtain. Lighting effects by Rebecca Raines seem to enhance many different elements from Patrick's mind being thrown into the mix before he arrives.
I guarantee this play will have you talking afterwards about exactly what it is you saw, and I am not sure there is any one correct answer. I am just offering you my opinion and leave it up to your own imagination to enter the White Room and play along until the riddle of life is solved. And please let me know if you figure out what that purple rope is all about!
WELCOME TO THE WHITE ROOM runs through Saturday, September 16 at Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N Cahuenga Blvd (just north of Sunset) in Hollywood 90028 with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 7pm. Ticket prices are $25; students and seniors $20. For tickets and details, please call 323-856-8611, or visit www.theatreofnote.com to purchase tickets online and to view the complete schedule. This performance is supported, in part, by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Arts Commission.
Photo credit: Darrett Sanders