The Blue Room
The latest local production of David Hare’s The Blue Room, which first rocked London’s West End in 1998 when Nicole Kidman gave the world the earliest glimpse of her fiery fuzzy, is now undressing again nightly a dozen years later here at the Odyssey.
Unfortunately, this visit to The Blue Room sadly proves that one of our town’s most gifted and inventive directors, Elina de Santos, isn’t incapable of making a misstep, her Achilles’ Heel being the production’s casting choices. The two actors expected to hold an audience’s attention for 90 intermissionless minutes while schtupping like rabbits as they portray all of the play’s interchanging characters, must be smoothly capable stage veterans, able to slickly plow through (no pun intended) the brilliant Mr. Hare’s densely complex, richly poetic, even occasionally rather stuffy dialogue, while still making it all seem at least remotely conversational. Unfortunately, neither Christian S. Anderson nor Christina Dow is quite up for the task—at least not yet.
Based on Arthur Schnitzler’s 19th-century classic La Ronde, in which 10 couples meet and have 10 slam-bang-thank-you-ma’am intimate encounters like a well-practiced sexual tag team, The Blue Room was Hare’s first outright gritty yet comedic departure from such hefty fare as Plenty, Racing Demon, Skylight, and the most underrated of his remarkable plays, The Judas Kiss. But way back in 1900 when La Ronde first surfaced, Schnitzler intended it to only be read among friends meeting in salons, as he considered the bold sexuality he presented to be both unprintable and unmountable (pun intended this time).
By 1964 when La Ronde surfaced as Roger Vadim’s film version Circle of Love, starring his then-wife Jane Fonda and penned by Jean Anouilh, the play’s conceit—that one of each sex partner goes on to become a half of the next coupling—was far less verboten. By 2009, when Joe DiPietro’s all-male (and often all-naked) adaptation Fucking Men rocked the Celebration Theatre here in El Lay, what could or could not be shown to today’s unblinking audiences had come full circle.
Although Anderson and Dow are facile actors with a great future ahead for each of them if the god Terpsichore is on their side, neither exhibits much delineation here between the people they portray. Both have trouble with the diverse characters’ many different accents despite the program’s credit of JB Blanc as dialect coach, and Dow’s laidback delivery, juxtaposed against Anderson’s jumpy, grandly sweeping gestures used for most of the characters he portrays, makes their incompatible styles glaringly apparent. There is oddly very little physical chemistry between them, even in the nude; this is especially true of Anderson, who never stops “acting” except for his initial turn as an asshole-y New York cabdriver, his best work of the evening.
Each and every sexual encounter between Dow and Anderson begins with the exact same openmouthed kiss and with her legs instantly wrapping around him in the same tame missionary position; even if these two performers obviously need a little stage experience or savoir faire to get to where they need to go (it’s not hard to see either doing just fine on CSI or Law and Order), one would think de Santos would have been able to help them vary their staged lovemaking rites with each dissimilar person of such disparate circumstance introduced to us. More than anything else, however, neither actor seems to listen to or work off one another, never giving the impression they are meeting—or fucking—for the first time.
The Blue Room is also best performed in a space that allows scenery to fly or stages to revolve, making it even more leaden at the Odyssey, with innumerable and lengthy scene changes in the dark on Adam Flemming’s otherwise interesting set while one poor stagehand drags furniture and props in and out while the audience watches repetitious videos of falling leaves or psychedelic tie-dye designs.
With a stage this size, the better choice would have been to leave the beds and tables onstage throughout and have the actors move them slightly as they change from one character to another right there before us. When instead one is thinking, during the umpteenth extensive blackout, that the stagehand should not wear white jockey shorts under his black stage-managerial garb, one knows a show is in trouble.
The Blue Room is a bold and insightful play, dealing cagily through its humor with the loneliness and fragility of human desire, and I think Elina de Santos has a track record providing innumerable evidence of her as a brilliant director. But still, folks, didn’t anyone involved in this production realize how badly more seasoned and charismatic actors were needed to make it work?
THE BLUE ROOM plays through May 2 at the Odyssey, 2055 Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles; for tickets, call 310.477.2055. For more information, visit www.odysseytheatre.com