Wednesday, May 17, 2006

SOB's Best of 2005-06: #9 - The Well-Appointed Room (Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago, IL)

SOB's Best of 2005-06: #9 - The Well-Appointed Room (Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago, IL)

Over the past ten years, Richard Greenberg has become one of the most prolific and respected playwrights of our time. Just recently, his 1996 Pulitzer Prize-nominated Three Days of Rain made its way to the Broadway stage with a certain well-publicized high-profile cast. But beyond Broadway, he’s launched several new works including this year’s world premiere of The Well-Appointed Room at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre. Evocative of Three Days of Rain in that it traces two story lines through the same setting using its actors in multiple roles, the newer, sometimes explosive piece also carefully weaves a subtle tapestry that covers the most significant event in recent American history: the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001.

While Greenberg’s original script for The Well-Appointed Room actually included three acts, the two that remain are quite distinctive from each other with seemingly little in common save for the New York City apartment setting and effective use of Steppenwolf ensemble members Tracy Letts and Amy Morton. The first act begins with Letts as a happily oblivious husband who is confronted by his wife Natalie (with bags packed), infuriated by his pretentious ignorance toward all pain he has created within his relationship. Natalie’s pointed tongue ultimately eviscerates her husband, who never saw the lashing coming. The rather breathtakingly short act ends with wife leaving husband.

The second act revolves around Mark, a young man played by Josh Charles (known to most audiences for his work on television’s “Sports Night”), who makes an immediate bond with the audience. He shares his story of finding Gretchen -- played with great emotional depth by Kate Arrington -- falling in love with her and trying to build a life together in that same well-appointed room from Act One, albeit some time later. The act evolves around a backdrop that focuses on where they were on 9/11, as well as by Gretchen’s mysterious behavior after taking a walk away from that room.

While I can’t pretend to know exactly what Greenberg intended to serve as the common thread between the two dramatically divergent acts, my instincts tell me that it is 9/11 itself. I can tell you that I walked away from this fascinating performance haunted by the broken relationship from the first act. It resonated with me as a metaphor for the strained ties between the United States and much of the world. Letts’ character, so caught up in himself, arrogantly ignored all the warning signs until it was simply too late to repair any of the damage he unwittingly and blithely inflicted. Interestingly enough, the second act – which specifically called out the horrific events of 9/11 – ended up serving as a more hopeful salve, that maybe it wasn’t too late for us after all.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier postings in the interest of full disclosure, I’m a proud member of Steppenwolf’s Auxiliary Council’s Board of Governors. But trust me, this richly textured play stands on its own merits. With moving performances by the entire cast, exquisite direction from Steppenwolf co-founder Terry Kinney and a truly poignant story, The Well-Appointed Room is my selection for ninth place on my “Best of 2005-06” list. Should it come to a theatre near you, I encourage you to make a point of seeing it.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Related Stories:
SOB's Best of 2005-06: #1 - Theater Of The New Ear (Royce Hall, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA) (May 30, 2006)
SOB’s Best of 2005-06: #2 – Guys And Dolls (Piccadilly Theatre, London, UK) (May 26, 2006)
SOB’s Best of 2005-06: #3 – Hedda Gabler (Brooklyn Academy of Music – Harvey Theatre, New York, NY) (May 25, 2006)
SOB’s Best of 2005-06: #4 – A Blameless Life (Steppenwolf Garage, Chicago, IL) (May 24, 2006)
SOB’s Best of 2005-06: #5 – Reeling (The Children’s Theatre Company, Minneapolis, MN) (May 23, 2006)
SOB’s Best of 2005-06: #6 – “MASTER HAROLD”…And The Boys (Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago, IL) (May 21, 2006)
SOB’s Best of 2005-06: #7 – Love Song (Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago, IL) (May 19, 2006)
SOB's Best of 2005-06: #8 - Billy Elliot The Musical (Victoria Palace Theatre, London, UK) (May 18, 2006)
SOB's Best of 2005-06: #10 - Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Eugene O'Neill Theatre, New York, NY) (May 15, 2006)
The SOB Five "Worst" of 2005-06 (May 12, 2006)
SOB's Best and Worst of 2005-06 Theatre Season (May 12, 2006)

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