There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
The Blue Room (“10 people, 10 affairs, 1 desire”) is all about sex, but it’s a lousy date play. Its couplings—culminations of little more than an urge for pleasure—are the point of David Hare’s script, but they’re suggested rather than shown: When parts meet parts, the lights drop, the actors rearrange themselves, and a voice-over announces the elapsed time (over two hours in one pill-fueled instance, “zero minutes” when a priggish student gets his first shot at his parents’ married friend). There’s talk of love, especially in a surprising moment in the final scene that harks back to the opening exchange between a novice hooker and a friendly cabdriver (who gets a freebie, up against a wall), but most of the actual love here is as long gone and far away as premarital virginity, trust in politicians, and the Tom Cruise-Nicole Kidman marriage. This is the play, in fact, in which Kidman notoriously bared all in a London production, but don’t go to Phoenix Theatre DC’s show looking for nudity. The play’s erotic authenticity is hampered by all those unshed boxers and briefs, and that’s only one of several credibility problems. Phoenix can’t quite rise above the play’s Britishness, either; much of the dialogue (starting with the cabbie’s inability to pay the hooker because he “spent the lot on sushi”) sounds inauthentic from American mouths, and the politician, stripped of his English context (another review identifies him as New Labour, but he seemed like a wishy-washy Social Democrat to me), becomes more of a caricature than a character. The Phoenix production adds a Sapphic twist by changing Hare’s playwright character from Robert to Roberta, but the resultant character’s pointed insinuations about her massive, throbbing vocabulary and her actress conquest’s reference to her as a “prick” lose their punch. None of this is meant to suggest that The Blue Room is a failure. Hare toys deftly with the mechanics of seduction, and the Phoenix actors—particularly Melissa Schwartz as a frustrated wife, Sara Barker as a cokehead teenage model, and Monte J. Wolfe as the cabbie—shade their performances with knowledge that sex is about such things as feeling pretty, sustaining an intimate bond, and maybe even giving and receiving love. Director Allison Arkell Stockman has made effective use of the 1409 Playbill Cafe#’s small space (including the back garden outside the windows—Angela Cerkevich, who first appears there, had better hope for no rainy days for the next month), and the minor set changes keep the daisy chain of scenes moving from couple to couple with few distractions. Still, there’s the problem of the rollaway bed, which first appears in the student’s room and then is used for the successive scenes. Between vignettes, someone strips the bedding down to the next layer (seven affairs, one bed, seven sets of sheets); this arrangement reminded my companion of the way she made up her son’s crib in case of overnight accidents. Come to The Blue Room to be intrigued and entertained, but not aroused; and, like me, bring a friend you’re never, ever going to bed with. —Pamela Murray Winters