How it’s New York: Irish Arts Center is known as one of New York’s best residential theatres. Enda Walsh’s “Rooms” was a companion piece to “Arlington” at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, so Walsh encouraged a New York City tour.
How it’s Irish: Enda Walsh is an Irish playwright, and the voices heard in “Rooms” are Irish ones.

 Guest writer T. Cat Ford, a New York City-based playwright, visited Enda’s theatrical installation last month and wrote a report for us. She brings the eye of a professional theatre artist working in a smilar idiom to this write-up. For a full  review, see Alice Farrell’s coverage here.

In Enda Walsh’s “Rooms,” a theatrical installation at the Irish Arts Center, the audience is invited to explore three rooms – a kitchen, a hotel room, and a child’s bedroom, in small groups – while listening to the inner thoughts of each room’s inhabitant.

This is an exciting concept and potentially immersive.

Unfortunately, I did not feel “Rooms” achieved its goals.

When entering someone else’s space all of our senses are engaged.

We learn about other people not only through sight and sound but by touch and smell. The audience is invited to explore the rooms, encouraged to pick up the items and yet the rooms are not lighted well enough to facilitate this. Only one room brings the lights to full, and that is fairly late in the piece.

Room 303

On entering the child’s bedroom we see toys scattered about. There is a lot to take in but the audio starts almost [pullquote]One can’t put an audience onto what is essentially a stage set and expect suspension of belief.[/pullquote] immediately in this half-lit room and we are not given the time to explore and imagine who this child might be.

In the hotel room, I was distracted by squares in the ceiling of the room. They are painted the same color as the ceiling but look nothing like anything I’d ever seen in a hotel room. I began to wonder about their purpose. Perhaps they were speakers? Perhaps we would be flooded with sound?

They are, in fact, lights for an effect that is not particularly effective.

Also working against the immersive aspect of this experience is sound bleed between the rooms. In the child’s room, the low murmur of the audio coming from another part of the installation can be heard.

When the child mentioned her parents watching television  I tried to justify this murmur as television, but was aware of working hard to play a mental trick on myself.

When in the hotel room I again heard sound bleed: the man whose room we were visiting mentioned being able to hear televisions from other rooms. The problem is that the low murmur is the same low murmur as before accented by the same intermittent percussive sounds. Again, the illusion of entering another’s unique space is shattered.

A kitchen.

Perhaps the worst example of this has to do with the venue itself. While spacious enough to house these three rooms, it has a distinctive odor due to the fact that the building was formerly used to house tires. The smell is musty and oily, with the occasional waft of burnt rubber. This is an odor that makes one wary.

It was so strong in the child’s room I began to wonder if she was a bed wetter. The kitchen, while looking clean, smelled awful. This cannot have been the author’s intention.

When attempting this kind of verisimilitude, one must pay attention to detail. One can’t put an audience onto what is essentially a stage set and expect suspension of belief.

I am glad that theatres are breaking the fourth wall in this way and experimenting with new forms. The possibilities are truly exciting but the standards to be met are exacting. The world of modern art has decades of experience with this kind of installation. Perhaps theatre artists should look there for instruction.

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