(l to r) Becca Blackwell, Will Cobbs, Pete Simpson and Emily Davis in ‘Is This a Room.’ (Photo: Chad Batka)
Is This a Room is the first of two Broadway transfers this fall from the Vineyard Theatre, an Off-Broadway theater company that — pre-pandemic — produced two works derived from unusual source material.
As The Broadway Blog reported of its original New York run, “if you want to see the consequences of our crumbling democracy play out on stage, the Vineyard Theatre’s Is This A Room offers a captivating, if not entirely dynamic, 70 minutes of character study.
“Conceived and directed by Tina Satter, the verbatim FBI transcript serves as the script, and while it certainly delivers moments of suspense, it lacks an arc that could springboard what is now a compelling theatrical exercise into an actual play.”
Critics of the show’s Broadway transfer had similar reactions:
“As the title hints, Is This a Room is as much about atmosphere as the words it enacts,” writes Naveen Kumar for Variety. “The thick, humid air on Winner’s front lawn trills with lazy crickets. Garbled yelps from a walkie-talkie sound distorted, staticky, almost extraterrestrial. Darkness functions as punctuation.
“But at a brisk 65 minutes, “Is This a Room” may seem an especially hearty amuse bouche, a taste of formal innovation and thoughtful provocation that also primes the appetite for more, ” Kumar concludes.
Deadline‘s Greg Evans’ attributes much of the play’s success to its four actors. “Much, though, rests on actors who are asked to deliver the verbatim dialogue, with all its inherent fits and starts, interruptions and weirdnesses, without pushing the conversation into the mannered eccentricity of, say, a David Mamet script,” he writes. “These words must sound authentic yet potent, banal yet ominous. The sensational [Emily] Davis, making her Broadway debut, pulls it off in what we can assume will be a career-making performance, and she’s matched beat for beat by [Will] Cobbs and, especially, the stuttering, coughing [Pete] Simpson, with [Becca] Blackwell as the comes-and-goes investigator sprinkling it all with an eerie vibe that seems almost too unsettling to be true. Almost.”
Theatrely‘s Juan A. Ramirez also questions the play’s lack of finality, writing, “Broadway is not known for inconclusive, untidy works, and Satter’s docudrama stands out as a challenge to the notion of finality. Is This A Room offers no answers, no solutions, and no reprieve. What it does present is a tour-de-force performance by Davis, whose slow release of her character’s Air Force trained stolidness becomes almost unbearable to watch. Matched by Thomas Dunn’s stark lighting and Sanae Yamada and Lee Kinney’s excellent, buzzy sound design, her personal descent into hell becomes an existential imperative, plunging the whole world into an abyss of unknown impulses and unfinished consequences.”
Is This a Room
149 West 45th Street, NYC
Through January 16, 2022