Memories of the past haunt the present of a once successful Hollywood mogul, his tormented wife, and their three adult sons in Christopher Knopf’s frustratingly abstruse The Red Room, now getting its World Premiere at North Hollywood’s NoHo Arts Center.
Set sometime in the 1960s, The Red Room has Edwin, Rose, and their sons Will, David, and Johnny rehashing the past over the course of an alcohol-fueled night, but since we’re plunked down smack dab in the middle of the sons’ “intervention” in Edwin’s life, this reviewer ended up spending most of Act One attempting to determine just who is who and what is what, making the drama’s 90-minutes-plus-intermission running time seem considerably longer.
Director James J. Mellon and his very talented NoHo Arts Center Ensemble cast do their best with the muddled material they are given.
At one point Rose cries out, “I’m trying very hard to understand what I don’t understand,” echoing at the very least my own sentiments when confronted with characters who spend much of The Red Room reminding each other of past events we know nothing about, but rarely listening to what the others are saying. Rose in particular seems to be unaware that there are others in The Red Room with her as she carries on a running conversation with herself. Flashbacks do little to clarify, and in fact often add to the confusion.
What this reviewer did manage to piece together is that the intervention Edwin’s sons are staging comes from a fear that their father will squander every cent of his apparently handsome pension in the six months following his retirement, though what makes them so certain of this is anyone’s guess. True, Edwin does drink heavily, the result of an accident suffered in his younger days resulting in the lost of his left hand and a great deal of recurring pain. Still, it would take a heck of a lot of alcohol to deplete a pension as considerable as Edwin’s in just half a year.
We learn in flashbacks that Edwin once wanted to become an actor, an ambition his overbearing father greeted with disdain and one which was apparently cut short by his accident. There’s also a superfluous flashback in which a psychic European innkeeper slash hooker predicts said accident.
Among the facts I was able to discern are that Edwin is a lifelong philanderer; that he made one hit movie starring a European actress that the studio execs thought would bomb, but didn’t; that his oldest son Will is the “perfect one”; that middle son David loves the F word; that his youngest son, college student Johnny, plans to enter the Peace Corps, much to his disapproving father’s dismay; that Edwin’s Hollywood mansion must be put up for sale, if Edwin can convince Rose to sign the papers; and that as a young man, Edwin spent much of his time hanging around the Algonquin Round Table, causing the frequent dropping of names which may or may not be familiar to the audience.
At one point, one of Edwin’s sons tells his father, “Dad, you’re drifting,” which echoed my sentiments as I attempted to make heads or tails of what was transpiring onstage.
Director Mellon and his very talented cast (Brad Blaisdell as Edwin, Janet Fontaine as Rose, Robert W. Arbogast as Will, Chad Coe as David, Lane Compton as Johnny and as Edwin in flashbacks; Don Savage as Edwin’s father Sam, Jay Willick as someone named JD, Alex Robert Holmes as someone named Herman, and Karessa McElheny as the abovementioned multitasking European innkeeper) do their very best with the material they are given.
Where The Red Room merits unqualified raves are in scenic/lighting designer Luke Moyer’s richly appointed, gorgeously lit Hollywood living room set, Shon LeBlanc’s elegant 1960s/1920s costumes, and Jeff Gardner’s richly layered sound design.
The Red Room is produced by Willick and Blaisdell. Merilee Blaisdell is associate producer. Diana Copeland is production stage manager.
Veteran Hollywood scribe Knopf has apparently based The Red Room on his own family. (Knopf’s father Edwin produced the 1953 hit Lili only to see his career go down the drain.) There is doubtless a compelling play to come out of the viper’s nest Knopf called home. Unfortunately, for this reviewer at least, The Red Room is not that play.
NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood.
September 30, 2012
Photos: Rhett Benz