A Red Orchid pounds mightily on door of Harold Pinter’s ‘Room’

SHARE A Red Orchid pounds mightily on door of Harold Pinter’s ‘Room’
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HB Ward and Kirsten Fitzgerald in Harold Pinter’s “The Room,” at A Red Orchid Theatre. (Photo: Michael Brosilow)

Something is very, very wrong in the little London bedsitter where Rose and Bert, a middle-aged couple, co-exist in a relationship that could be described as deeply dysfunctional were anything resembling normal communication going on between them.

‘THE ROOM’ Recommended When: Through Nov. 13 Where: A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells Tickets: $30 – $35 Info: http://www.aredorchidtheatre.org Run time: 80 minutes with no intermission

Rose is clearly terrified of all that lurks beyond the walls of her “cozy” little apartment, whether it is a sound coming from the damp basement apartment below hers that might (or might not) be occupied, or the rattle of keys from her strange and lonely landlord, Mr. Kidd, or even the freezing cold winter that lurks outside her door. It appears that she hoards potatoes, which are stacked on every available surface. And aside from cooking a fine breakfast for Bert —who never responds to a word of her incessant chatter, and is hellbent on taking his van for a spin despite the bad weather —Rose appears to have little or nothing to do but endure in a terrible state of anxiety.

Insecurity, paranoia, fear of strangers, terror of eviction and displacement. Rose is bedeviled by all these things, though she never fully explains the source of her fears. And of course the things that frighten her most do invade “The Room,” Harold Pinter’s chilling 80-minute play, now receiving one of those riveting productions by A Red Orchid Theatre that reminds you of the sheer take-no-prisoners intensity of acting that happens on its intimate stage.

Mierka Girten and Dano Duran in Harold Pinter’s “The Room,” at A Red Orchid Theatre. (Photo: Michael Brosilow)

Mierka Girten and Dano Duran in Harold Pinter’s “The Room,” at A Red Orchid Theatre. (Photo: Michael Brosilow)

Pinter’s first play — written and produced in 1957 — “The Room” bears many of the qualities that will go on to be developed in such works as “The Birthday Party,” “The Dumbwaiter,” “The Caretaker” and others, which often are lumped together as his “comedies of menace.” But there is nothing comical about director Dado’s fiercely imagined, profoundly unsettling production. Her take on Pinter’s vision of the world is pitch black. And if the work grew out of Pinter’s own experience of being evacuated from his home as a child during World War II and the Blitz, it now takes on a somewhat different meaning, as both terrorism, and the plight of immigrants and refugees, are very much current preoccupations. A sense of instability is in the air in “The Room,” with even the light fixtures switching on and off like indecipherable warning.

When we first meet Rose (Kirsten Fitzgerald, an actress of extraordinary focus and truth), she is frying up eggs and bacon for the silent, detached Bert (HB Ward, a perfect cipher). Their edgy, lonely landlord, Mr. Kidd (Anish Jethmalani, a masterful Pinter player, as he first demonstrated years ago in a production of “The Caretaker”), enters the scene and proceeds to talk at cross-purposes to Rose, and to the ever-silent Bert. He asks questions about the ownership of various pieces of furniture in this room —one we learn he once shared with his now deceased sister. All the while he unceremoniously peels a potato whose scraps litter the floor.

Both Bert and Kidd finally leave, and Rose is alone, but not for long. Enter an arrogant couple in fancy dress —the effusive Mrs. Sands (Mierka Girten, oddly charming in her blunt deviousness), and her husband, Mr. Sands (a deftly thuggish Dano Duran). They appear to be looking for an apartment, and Rose has every reason to believe they have their eye on hers. And, as she looks on helplessly, Mrs. Sands proceeds to litter the place with black feathers and unceremoniously pile many of Rose’s possessions into her carpetbag on her way out. Rose’s loss of control only escalates, but the worst is yet to come.

Led in by Mr. Kidd is Riley (a haunting turn by Jo Jo Brown), a gaunt, ghostly figure tapping the white cane of the blind. Riley (who Pinter specified as a black man, but who here is played as a sexually ambiguous zombie) claims to have a message from Rose’s father. Before it’s all over, Bert returns and engages in an act of indescribable brutality.

Almost everything in “The Room” is enigmatic and open to wide interpretation. You might call this play a study in the many forms of trauma, or the violence of the passive and aggressive, or simply our powerlessness in the face of man’s inhumanity to man. The moral of the story? You can hide, but you cannot escape. Safety is entirely illusory.

The show’s set designs and costumesartfully conjure the horror of isolation and exposure. This is, after all, a “Room” far more hellish than “cozy.”

HB Ward (left) and Anish Jethmalani in Harold Pinter’s “The Room” at A Red Orchid Theatre. (Photo: Michael Brosilow)

HB Ward (left) and Anish Jethmalani in Harold Pinter’s “The Room” at A Red Orchid Theatre. (Photo: Michael Brosilow)

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