The Blue Room

The Herald Theatre Auckland, New Zealand 22 March 2001

Director: Oliver Driver Lighting: Bryan Caldwell Designer: Ross Joblin Costume Designer: Elizabeth Whiting Starring: Kevin Smith & Danielle Cormack

Walking home from The Herald Theatre after seeing The Blue Room was somewhat surreal. As a visitor to this country from the United States, and as a Xena: Warrior Princess fan (Danielle and Kevin both had recurring roles on the show) I couldn’t help but pinch myself. I had just spent 2 hours in a quaint little theatre 7 rows from the stage watching two actors who most likely won’t ever travel indefinitely to the states. Not because they don’t have the talent but because they’re native Kiwi’s and the States – I’ve come to realise while being detached from my Americanism – is a far cry from their lifestyle. I wouldn’t want to leave here either.

The Blue Room is a modern day adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s Hands Around (also known as La Ronde; which was the name of the black and white movie released in 1950 directed by Max Ophuls). However, this is not 1921 and we’re not in Vienna. There were no anti-semitic riots. No one was arrested and there was no 6 day obscenity trial.

Arthur Schnitzler, an Austrian dramatist, novelist, short story writer, and critic was born in Vienna in 1862. He became a playwright only after a script, set to perform in 4 days time, never made it to his production house. So he set out to write one himself.

Today, The Blue Room has been adapted for modern times by English playwright David Hare. David Hare was born June 5th, 1947 in Sussex, London, England. He is one of London’s most accomplished playwrights, and at first was – some people thought – and odd choice to take on Schnitzler’s Hands Around. The Blue Room’s debut was at the Donmar Warehouse in London, England in September of 1998. Nicole Kidman and lain Glen were the original actors, and was directed by Academy Award winner Sam Mendes (American Beauty). Originally Schnitzler had 10 different actors playing each of the 10 characters, but today all 10 roles are filled by only two actors. And, from 21 March through 28 April, at The Herald Theatre in downtown Auckland Danielle Cormack and Kevin Smith are those two actors.

The play, though previously noted as being, "pure theatrical viagra" was rather tame in my eyes. Considering what I thought I was walking into was going to be an all out flesh fest. Though, tastefully, any time the actors began to take off their clothes – with exception of a few brief moments – the lights went dark, and over head a screen charted the time span. Ranging from 45 seconds to 8 years. Each scene had two characters both yearning for sexual interaction and only one of those characters would carry over into the next scene to be met by a new character. And that character would carry over into the next scene and so on for 10 different scenes.

Bryan Caldwell did an amazing job with the lighting. From the fist scene with the light blue showering the pure white backdrop to the roof top of the hotel and the playwrights bedroom lit only by a candle. Caldwell lighting made for a feast of moods. Director Oliver Driver -- also known for his directorial pieces, ATROCITIES (Sugar & Spice) and CORIOLANUS (Auckland Summer Shakespear) – did a great job with subtle prop eye candy. The key wardrobe color was blue and every shade of blue. From the prostitutes naive light blue dress, to the professional actresses’ midnight blue gown. Not to mention the glasses in the Au Pair’s kitchen, the ashtray in the hotel room, along with the models melted ice cream. Set design was simple, so as not to take away from the actors I’m sure, but I would have turned the stage just slightly so that we didn’t see the backs of the actors nearly as much. But the set design itself -- two opposing doors on each end of the stage was extremely subtle, yet predominant as well. During each set change, in what was nearly darkness, the walls of the stage on either side of the doors would open and dressed in all white ventured two prop guys (dressed like painters) who removed and reassembled the sets. Even throwing in some comedy while we waited.

The Herald Theatre itself was very small. Approximately 200 seats and only 10 rows deep, noting the first row is actually on the stage itself. The all white stage was shaped much like half of a hexagon with two doors on each opposing side. The lighting was a soft blue light casting the mood of slight melancholy. In the center was a plain white bench. On this bench, smoking a cigarette, sat the first of our 10 characters in the first of our ten scenes; Irene the prostitute. The play starts. A man, hurried in his steps, walks past her. She looks up. He disappears. Again he walks past and says nothing, but Irene mutters, "What?" He turns. "Did you say something?" She asks again. And so begins there rather childish interaction. He, the cab driver complaining about spending all his money on sushi just minutes before, and now not having any to pay for her services. They exchange words hidden beneath a blanket of flirtation. Until, down by the water, right there in plain view, the deed is done. So begins the daisy-chain of sexual encounters.

Kevin Smith does an excellent job in his Auckland Theatre Company debut. Playing all 5 characters with ease. My personal favorite was the playwright. In his first scene, the over-exaggerated writer -- clearly in the stages of hypo-mania -- takes out a ‘blue’ guitar and sings for the model a song appropriately titled, "The Blue Room." Kevin’s voice is amazing, and he actually played the guitar. In the beginning, when the cab driver character meets the prostitute and even as far as the first scene of the student meets the Au Pair, both Kevin and Danielle seemed a bit uncomfortable but much to my enjoyment this slowly dissipated.

Danielle Cormack shined in every character, but my favorite was the politicians wife when she’s with the student. The scene with her in bed, almost toying with the student about his impitency problem had me rolling. I loved her facial expression and the execution of her comical lines was perfect. True comedic timing. I also enjoyed her 17 year old model. "I caught my little 13 year old sister out on a date. What a slut. Naturally I kicked her ass when she got home." Remind you, she’s in a hotel room with the married man.

Both Smith and Cormack donned a number of different accents for each character and they were fabulous at it. I think the play was executed wonderfully and wish it much success through it’s 28 April run.

Alicia Chérie Peterson
LiteraryROC Publications