“Rooms Fall Apart: A Serious Play” is not that serious, but totally worth it
By John Barry
I came to Rooms Fall Apart: A Serious Play, a descendent of the Copy Cat Theatre’s Rooms Plays, now put on by Socially Engaged Arts and Performance Projects (SEAPP) as part of the Transmodern festival (though it runs through this weekend), with a bunch of reasons for not liking this non-play, non-performance art piece, and most of them still hold true. I mean, it’s hard to discern a serious idea, and there’s no serious sense that anything serious is happening. And it calls itself a “serious play.” Is this really serious? Is it serious with quotation marks?
But then I realized that starting from either assumption would get me in deep water, so I just headed upstairs.* At the top of four floors, we were crammed into a small room where everyone had to sit on everyone else’s laps. There was a ghoul taking notes, and obviously trying to figure out what to do with everyone once they arrive in.
I looked around. I didn’t know anyone there, not even a competing theater critic. Doing this with nothing but strangers – and for the first time – made this more affecting.
I was picked with two other strangers by a transsexual stripper, and I was slowly urged to crawl through what seemed like a labyrinthine large intestine. Now the people in front of me – a female socialist and a queer socialist (at least this is how they identified themselves in another room) turned a corner and disappeared. I panicked, crawled down another length of large intestines, and found what looked like an exit, which I then realized was a window of said fourth floor. That exit was not an option. Then I found myself back where I had started, but realized that another group of four people was starting their own journey. I was in danger of blocking the large intestine. I was supposed to be heading through this with a critical eye, remember.
Luckily, I persevered, and somewhere ahead of me, found what looked like the shoes of the person I had started with. I didn’t grab them, but found myself released in what looked like a gigantic igloo/cave, with a light slowly let down, and strange voices on either side baiting me and encouraging me to turn the light on. I did, and two faces poked out of the pink wall, scribbled with bathroom graffiti.
I was of two minds. On the one hand, I approached this with skeptical nonchalance (you want serious criticism? I’ll give you criticism), but on the other hand, I didn’t want to muck things up, having already gotten lost in a large intestine. I saw myself as a participant in a rudely staged experience…and even as I went through 22 rooms, losing a sense of direction and even reason for being there, there was no question that, in the end, I was not only a point of interest, but the only thing that held this experience together.
In fact, as the emcee helpfully put it, I was the single dot at the center of the universe, through which subjectivity and objectivity – and the awareness of space – flow. I was being asked to navel gaze, even as I was being prodded, baited, encouraged, offended, humored, and entertained. The somewhat detached observation point – amused, but never involved enough to really care – served as a nexus for this creative smorgasbord.
This strange comfort zone, once achieved, was an excellent starting point for the rest of the Transmodern festival. This was about process. The intestinal tract was the focus and not what we came out with at the end.
This was a serious experience. That’s all I can say. Again, “serious experience” seems like a phrase that means little by the time you forget what being serious feels like. So the only three pieces of advice I would give if you go this weekend are: Don’t do it if you’re a devout Catholic, over 300 pounds, or on a bad acid trip. But, to be honest, I can’t wait for the next Rooms Play.
*This post initially stated that the production was not handicap accessible. We regret the error.