The Upper Room: Theater review by Helen Shaw
There isn't a whole lot happening in The Upper Room—or, rather, it's the end of the world, yet it still feels like a quiet retreat, a rest before the drama kicks in. Some of this sleepy quality comes from Catherine Brookman's excellent tunes, which overwhelm the action from time to time—eerie overlapping choral creations (a lone electric guitarist sits onstage) that can fuse into something like whalesong. Writer-directors Jeremy Bloom and Brian Rady try to attain the same drifting peace in their eccentric script, but inaction works differently, and is more dangerous, in text.
The setting is the very real Forest Farm, a still-extant back-to-the-land settlement in Maine. Rady and Bloom imagine it in an alternative future, in which three sisters have kept the radical, ecstatic collective going, though rising waters have started to wash the land away. One sister (Brookman) has already been lost to the sea, and her siren songs to the remaining utopians call them into the waters as well: Seamus (Govind Kumar) is delighted to discover he has developed gills, and the others pray and bicker about the changes they want to keep at bay.
The hodgepodge set seems to have washed ashore itself: The room is messy with detritus like an overhead projector, blue-painted trees, leggy houseplants, chopped wood and musical equipment, all surrounding a giant inclined dinner table. (The title is a reference to the location of the Last Supper, and the directors constantly paint the commune as a kind of church.) There are clever touches throughout the production—including tart comic commentary by Stacy Ayn Price as Sue, the lone pragmatist—but the material never resolves its flotsam-and-jetsam quality. Flickers of narrative don't develop, nor has the writing team yet developed a style strong enough to substitute for it. The relief we feel when the songs begin points to these weaknesses, though we do happily forget them as Brookman's tidal compositions carry us away.—Helen Shaw
New Ohio Theatre (Off-Off Broadway). Written and directed by Jeremy Bloom and Brian Rady. Music by Catherine Brookman. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 20mins. No intermission.