When it opened in New York in 1998, David Hare's The Blue Room received megatons of publicity, mostly for its main marketing hook: Nicole Kidman revealing, during one particularly shadowy moment, her reportedly beautiful backside. Too bad she wasn't available for the Theater LaB Houston production, since I can think of no other reason to see this sorry tale about sex and its often sad place in human affairs.
There's a rather long history behind Hare's "freely adapted" script. In 1897 Arthur Schnitzler, a doctor who witnessed the decadence of turn-of-the-century Austrian society, responded with a racy series of sketches titled Reigen. The ten-character script depicted a succession of couples from differing social strata who were connected only by their sexual encounters; the play was considered so shocking that it wouldn't be produced for another 20-plus years. In the 1950s Reigen was adapted for the screen and became the well-known French cult film La Ronde. And now, 100 years after the play was first conceived, Hare has concocted a thoroughly modern version of what was once a naughty tale. Trouble is, to contemporary audiences there just isn't anything shocking about these bad, bored people having bad, bored sex. They represent just another bunch of numb hedonists who can't keep their pants on, despite the fact they don't appear to glean any joy from their sordid encounters.
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The cast at Theater LaB doesn't breathe much fire into these ice-cube characters. Laura Hooper and Lynn Miller play all ten characters, the multiple casting yet another way for Hare to underscore his point about sex and its inevitable disappointments. Everybody feels the postcoital ennui; some are just more articulate about it. The prostitute can manage little more than a monosyllabic "hey" to the aristocrat she beds, while he can wax on and on about his endless "search for a love that stays real."
Hooper finds good moments in some of her characters. Especially strong is her enigmatic, flaky actress who enjoys her I'm-bad-to-the-bone reputation a little too much. But Miller flounders through most of the script; his odd diction, including overenunciated consonants, makes him appear almost uncomfortable with this material. And neither actor gets much help from director Ed Muth, whose rather timid take on the script does nothing for the inherent banality of the subject.
The Blue Room
Theater LaB Houston, 1706 Alamo
Through Saturday, February 24 (713)868-7516 $20
The alienation of vacuous sex might be more interesting if somebody famous got naked to tell about it; otherwise, the subject is as dull as the deed itself.
See also Lisa Gray's column, "The Art of Seduction"