A building can hold so many stories inside its lifeless structure that by existing they themselves are sponges for the life that passes them by. “The Room Sings” at La MaMa explores the history of a country house and its inhabitants through the decades and what the house meant to each one. Using a variety of styles and divided into four different timelines, this investigation of how the house came to be is both extremely entertaining and frustrating.
The show has a vaudevillian singer serve as the house spirit, or historian, throughout the transitions between scenes. At first this worked so well. It was haunting yet funny. Creepy but endearing. But as the show progressed, the lesser use of it ruined the structure put forth by the production itself in first quarter of the play. While this usually wouldn’t matter, the return of the character later made it seem more of a gimmick and less of a continuous presence. And this is not an isolated problem.
The four stories that serve as the backbone of the play fluctuate in quality. Two of them were fascinating while the other two felt underwritten — almost like they ran out of steam to give them real personalities. The stories based in the present and the fifties are the strongest ones. The standout being the Chinese ghost story of an older immigrant battling the spirit of his mom and accepting his new life. The one in the present sees a couple learning how to let go of their past and create their own story. Both look back at what got them to that house, and both determined how they would move forward. The other two stories just worked to make those stronger.
The cast was exceptional, and while not everything works, their performances didn’t suffer for it. The same can be said about the technical aspects of the show, which kept me entertained the whole 75-minute run time. “The Room Sings” has a bad case of too many great ideas not able to find a home in one play, and instead we get half of those ideas so they can fit in one show. I wonder if the stories were fleshed out and if the structure was more defined, the show could have been something special. As it stands, we are seeing a glimpse of that greatness.
“The Room Sings” tries and almost succeeds at creating something unique. The styles range from farce to musical, and each has a level of love dedicated to them. But sadly their dedication does not translate into interest, and two stories seemed to have suffered because of it.
Out of 4 stars:
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