Welcome to the White Room
Reviewed by Neal Weaver
Theatre of Note
Through September 17
In Trish Harnetiaux’s bizarre dark comedy, three slightly mad scientists find themselves stranded in an entirely white room. They are Mr. Paine (Chris Gardner), Jennings (Sarah Lily), and Mrs. White (Sierra Marcks). Each is given one minute to demonstrate a device he or she has created. Each of the devices causes those using them to have strange psychic experiences, involving a mysterious purple rope. Each has erudite explanations for his or her creation.
Gradually it evolves that there is no way out of the white room, although mysterious messages are tossed in through a panel in a locked door. The three learn that they are engaged in playing a game of an undefined nature, with seemingly arbitrary rules. And they are told they are being timed. They engage in various activities, some involving Mr. Paine’s sexual attraction to Mrs. White. They play a card-game, but wind up eating all the cards. (Edible props by culinary designer Andrea Ruth.) Mrs. White is persuaded to don a red dress (which has been tossed in), and dances a passionate tango with Mr. Paine.
Throughout, certain unexplained events and memories keep recurring — events that happened “after the Clean.” Something happened on a dock. Mr. Paine ate a chicken dinner, and the broccoli got stuck in his teeth. Amid all the mystification, a young man is hurled into the room, and he announces his name is Patrick. He seems to have a mysterious connection with the other three.
It’s hard to see precisely what Harnetiaux is trying to do. At times she seems to be aiming for science fiction, or else making some kind of philosophical statement. At other times her work appears an exercise in free association. When Mr. Paine laments that he can’t fly, Jennings suggests, “If you can’t fly, perhaps you could cry.” The playwright sometimes seems more interested in employing rhyme than establishing the logic of events. Or perhaps she’s simply engaging in mystification for its own sake. Fortunately, she does manage to make her work entertaining even if its meaning is in doubt.
Director Megan McGuane delivers a stylish and often amusing production, and the actors perform with precision and style. Reuben Uy is particularly appealing. He somehow lends the mysterious Patrick real charm, despite the fact that compared to the others, he has little stage time.
Amanda Knehans designed the all-white set (though actually it also employs pale shades of grey and beige, and some of the panels light up at times in brighter colors, courtesy of lighting designer Rebecca Raines.)
Theatre of Note, 1517 N. Cahuenga Boulevard, Hollywood. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; www.theatreofnote.com or (323) 856-8611. Running time: 70 minutes with no intermission.