Night Is a Room
Dagmara Dominczyk, Ann Dowd, and Bill Heck star in Naomi Wallace's new play about a bizarre love-triangle.
"A visitor throws the domestic lives of several people into shambles." This one-line synopsis can describe any number of plays across any genre, ranging from Kaufman and Hart's comedy The Man Who Came to Dinner to Arthur Miller's tragedy A View From the Bridge. Dramatist Naomi Wallace finds a way to elevate this well-worn trope to new heights of salaciousness in Signature Theatre's world premiere of her dark comedy Night Is a Room. And yet, as eyebrow-arching as this play is, it still seems disappointingly ordinary.
As Night Is a Room opens, Liana (Dagmara Dominczyk) is visiting Doré (Ann Dowd) in her modest flat somewhere in England. The pair, who have never met before, share a connection to Marcus (Bill Heck), Liana's husband and the son Doré gave up for adoption 40 years ago. Liana convinces Doré to allow Marcus to visit her on his milestone birthday in an effort to forge a connection between the two. Yet the relationship that actually transpires is anything but what Liana expected.
In her two-act work, which is drolly directed by Bill Rauch, Wallace confronts the emotion of love and its powerful ability to both bring people together and forcefully separate them. Her work is designed to make viewers experience great euphoria and deep pain, rife with frank discussions and uncomfortable depictions of sexual relations, as well as graphic violence (Thomas Schall created the realistic fights).
But even with long swaths of beautiful writing mixed in amid the inescapable pulpiness, Night Is a Room doesn't really accomplish as much as it wants, nor does it feel particularly substantial. A complete story has been told by the time the lights come up for intermission, and the second act wraps the piece up with too neat a bow for all the messiness that has transpired.
Still, it's consistently entertaining, thanks to mordantly funny dialogue and a pair of stunning performances from Dominczyk and Dowd. Their characters couldn't be more unalike, from where they live to how they look. Liana is a controlling ice queen in head-to-toe black, while Doré is stout, matronly, and seemingly helpless. (Clint Ramos designed the thoroughly convincing costumes, while scenic designer Rachel Hauck created two very different, class-based domiciles that perfectly mirror their tenants.)
Liana and Doré have more in common than we realize, and when the latter gets the upper hand, she's as chilling and as remorseless as Liana. Dowd and Dominczyk chart character arcs that are unexpected, startling, and consistently thrilling, and it's a treat to watch these powerful actresses duke it out over the course of two hours. Heck, who only appears in one scene, completes the company with the right blend of virility and dejectedness.
"This is crazy," shouted one audience member at two different occasions during the show. That reaction is akin to what audiences experienced watching Edward Albee's The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?, which travels a similarly shocking (though more satisfying) road in its examination of relationships and societal judgment. In the end, however, even "crazy" has its limits.