Saturday, November 27, 2010

circle of strangers: The Blue Room

The Blue Room
Sage Theatre

Ten characters, ten sexual encounters, two actors. Sage Theatre's production of The Blue Room is a revolving door of sexual vignettes exploring the power and the politics of loveless coupling. A call girl, a taxi driver, an au pair, a student, a politician, his wife, a model, a playwright, an actress, an aristocrat, each swap their sexual partner for a new one in what has been described as an ascension up the social ladder. Eventually the hand-off comes full circle.

The Blue Room is an odd sort of play. It eschews the conventions of story line and even of character development to portray the fundamentals of human nature through sexual politics. The cycle of intercourse, and the systemic way in which partners are replaced, effectively illustrates the almost robotic pairing that occurs during loveless sex.

There are brief moments of humanity within the play. The only moment of real romance – the missed opportunity for a chaste kiss that happens between the final couple – imparts the exercise with much needed pathos, and adds humanity to the bleak cycle of soulless coupling.

The (cheating) politician and his (also cheating) wife, as they reminisce about the wonders of their early married life, also hint at a sense of real affection, or perhaps just the remembrance of what real affection was once like.

When The Blue Room was written by Arthur Schnitzler in 1900, the delineation of sociopolitical classes was more evident than it is today. Although this adaption, by David Hare, is "set in one of the great cities of the world, present day", and although the costumes and the props are quite contemporary (spiked heeled pumps, cocaine, cell phones), some of the sensibilities espoused by the characters are so out-dated that that they feel stilted and anachronistic to the ear. "There are two types of women in the world..." is a social more that (thankfully) belongs to Schnitzler's world, not to ours.

But there are also deep truths buried within the characters' words, truths that transcend time and changing social mores, truths that resonate with us 110 years on, truths that are timeless within the human condition.

The Blue Room is a play that leaves you with more questions than it provides answers. Ignoring the obvious question of STD transmission, The Blue Room makes us question not only sexual politics, but also how our own identity is shaped by our relationships. That the characters are different people when they are with different partners makes us wonder who we would be, in other circumstances.

The Blue Room is at Sage Theatre until December 4, 2010.


Toccata said...

I'm rather intrigued by the idea that we're different people with different partners. I think that could be more true than we would like to think.

Have you ever read the play, Spring Awakening? I'm talking about the play and not the musical which sounds just weird to me. It was written in the same time period as The Blue Room maybe a decade earlier. I now want to read The Blue Room because it would be interesting to compare the two.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I think you are right, Toccata, and it's a somewhat unsettling thought. But what are plays, if not vehicles by which to unsettle our established ideas?
I've not read Spring Awakening; I don't know anything about it, to be honest, but shall certainly have to look it up.