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    The Situation Room

    The Room-inators

    "The Situation Room" starts with some sharp-witted ideas about how the government hatches its most misguided plots, but tends to lose them amid avant-garde distractions and halting dialogue.


    (Originally reviewed at Collective:Unconscious in December 2002.)

    "The Situation Room" takes as its raw material some of the bizarre plots hatched in the deepest, most secret parts of the American intelligence apparatus, in particular a scheme to drop incendiary bats on the Japanese in World War II. What kind of people, the play seems to ask, come up with these things?

    Company: Brooklyn Drama Club.
    Written by: Garrett Kalleberg, with Ted MacLeod and Heather Ramsdell.
    Directed by: Ted MacLeod.
    Cast: Chris Cantwell, Patrick Daniels, Juliet Furness, Melissa Picarello, Bristol Pomeroy, Bill Weylock, Sam Zuckerman, Jackie Pomeroy.

    Related links: Official site
    Bottle Factory Theater
    195 East 3rd Street
    Aug. 8-24, 2003

    We find ourselves in a windowless storeroom. Boxes of archived files line the walls and a video camera above the door beams the proceedings to higher-ups who are never seen. Four operatives are doing what Washington functionaries do best — holding a meeting — while a stenographer sits by, not recording what is said but, strangely, blacking out the lines in the script as if classifying the discussion as it happens.

    The meeting, planning elements of the nation's "pro-us, anti-them campaign," takes place under a veneer of mildly absurd officialdom. "I forgot to mention," the team leader (Chris Cantwell) instructs his engineering team near the beginning of their session, "that from this point forward the words 'kill' or 'killing' will be replaced by 'adjust' or 'adjustment' in all conversations."

    As the play progresses, more of these official euphemisms are imposed from on high, and the best and funniest parts of "The Situation Room" have to do with this kind of doctoring of the language. Characters speak increasingly obliquely and pepper their language with buzzwords from the officially approved lexicon, which is pretty funny stuff — you can't help laughing every time you hear the word "adjustment." And I hoped the play would drive home this theme about official obfuscation, the bureaucratic thought process and the psychological denial that go into the government's most misguided schemes. It's a message that might nicely tie current events in to the nation's entire history of covert craziness.

    But loose writing and direction keep the play from fully fleshing out the spooky minds of the characters in the government's secret cubbyholes. Between the good parts there's a lot of stalling — characters spend a lot of time saying essentially, okay, what are we going to do now, instead of just doing it. And the delivery is deliberately drawn out with long pauses — with characters sometimes even checking the stenographer's script — that make it seem as if the actors are constantly struggling to remember their lines (although it becomes clear that they're doing this on purpose).

    And then there are other distractions sprinkled throughout the play, some of which seem intended to hint that the people in the room are just pawns of somebody much higher, some just to rankle the audience out of complacency as part of the company's stated effort to create a "new theater of the absurd." And yet, there are enough absurdist building blocks in the script that it seems like a mistake to dilute it with gimmicks that take away from the play's intensity — the action could have been more concentrated, the dialogue more fully developed, and the play would be able to speak for itself. There's a smart, biting piece of work between the hesitations and digressions.

    DECEMBER 9, 2002

    Reader comments on The Situation Room:

  • play   from Bristol Pomeroy, Nov 25, 2005

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