Theatre Of NOTE welcomes a generation raised on virtual reality to Theater Of The Absurd with the West Coast Premiere of Trish Harnetiaux’s overly cryptic but still mostly quite engaging Welcome To The White Room.

Part One of Harnetiaux’s five-scene one-act introduces us to a trio of protagonists—Sierra Marcks as Ms. White, Chris Gardner as Mr. Paine, and Sarah Lilly as Jennings—trapped inside a room with, as Jean-Paul Sartre might easily have put it, No Exit.

Only the curvy, pony-tailed Ms. White provides us with any autobiographical details. (She’s a former child genius who understood “action, reaction, displacement, geometry, parallelograms, pi, hyperbola, refraction” and more, much much more, all before the age of six.)

Tall, dark, and handsome Mr. Paine and starchy, English-accented Jennings are less forthcoming about their backgrounds, there being more pressing matters at hand, namely a sixty-second demonstration of an object of their own choosing.

Ms. White’s device transports Mr. Paine into an RBM (Rapid Body Movement) trance that has him gyrating like a clucking spastic chicken. Jennings’ apparatus emits vibrations that send Ms. White and Mr. Paine into assorted paroxysms. Mr. Paine’s mechanism has Ms. White and Jennings shouting out rapid-fire one-word answers to questions only they can hear. (“Wisconsin.” “Cashmere.” “Charlemagne.”)

Then, an envelope is thrust through a slot in the white room’s knobless door and …

Welcome To The White Room may well make more sense to those raised in a world of virtual gaming than to this video-game-clueless boomer, though I’m guessing that even its cast would be hard pressed to explain for certain what it’s all about.

The eleventh-hour arrival of the previously unseen, unmentioned Patrick (Reuben Uy), does provide some clarification, along with social commentary on how living in virtual reality has affected today’s 20something Millennials, but that may be too little too late.

Still, bewildered or not, this reviewer rarely found his interest lagging, was for the most part quite entertained, and could not have been more impressed by Welcome To The White Room’s absolutely splendid cast performing under Megan A. McGuane’s zippy direction.

A revelatory Gardner proves himself a master of physical comedy as Mr. Paine. Marcks’s Ms. White and Lilly’s Jenning are every bit as adept as Gardner at snappy patter and razor-sharp comedic timing, and Uy’s eleventh-hour arrival holds its own high-spirited delights.

Rebecca Raines lights scenic designer Amanda Kneehan’s unexpectedly inviting White Room to stunning effect both from within and without.

Sound designer Dean Harada provides a whimsical backdrop of music and effects, Sarah Figoten Wilson’s costumes are pretty darned stunning as well, and rarely has a properties designer met a play’s virtually impossible challenges more astonishingly than “prop and culinary” designer Andrea Ruth.

Add to this Jen Albert’s out-of-the-ordinary fight choreography and dance choreographer Nancy Dobbs Owens’ highly original take on the tango and you’ve got one of Theatre Of NOTE’s best designed and choreographed productions ever.

Welcome To The White Room is produced by Aaron Saldaña, Jaxy Boyd, and Michelle Cullen. Greg Nussen is assistant director. Kelly Egan is stage manager. Ana Cardenas is assistant choreographer. David Bickford, Elinor Gunn, Robert Paterno, and Jonathon Lamer are understudies.

Welcome To The White Room will likely divide audiences among those who proclaim it brilliantly profound, those who leave the theater dazed and confused, and those like this reviewer who find themselves torn between the two extremes.

One thing is certain. At a brief under-seventy minutes, Welcome To The White Room will have you out of the theater in no time flat and debating its ideas and merits long after its fade to black.

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Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga, Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
August 17, 2017
Photos: Darrett Sanders

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