note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi
Sal … Tracee Chino
Josh … Ian Michaels
Mrs. Kelley … Cheryl McMahon
Mr. Wells … David Jackson
Adam … David Krinitt
Tristine Skyler’s THE MOONLIGHT ROOM is set in the emergency waiting room of a New York hospital where two teenagers, Sal and Josh, mark time after bringing in a friend who has, thanks to Josh, overdosed on a party drug. As their friend’s life hangs in the balance, they are confronted by Mrs. Kelley (Sal’s mother), Mr. Wells (the friend’s father), and Adam (Josh’s stepbrother); one of the plot threads ends happily, another follows the rules of the streets (the play’s title is Josh’s description of a nocturnal living room in a former schoolmate’s apartment). For the SpeakEasy production, Jenna McFarland has designed a wonderfully drab, salmon-colored waiting room down to its scuffed linoleum floor, and Seth Reisser has soothingly lit the main area and transforms the all-white hallway into a glowing passage to eternity (the voices over the intercom are properly tinny). If I begin by praising Ms. McFarland’s set, I do so because it signaled at once that THE MOONLIGHT ROOM would be a return to the Well-Made Play, bowing to the Unities of time, place and action and proving that the cinematic influences swamping so much of today’s playwriting need not be the only way to reach out to today’s audiences. Ms. Skyler squeezes much out of little and what may seem static to the MTV crowd is actually a good old-fashioned drama with the dusting moments cleverly woven in and most of the entrances and exits not too, too obvious. Sal and Josh are the best-realized characterizations with Josh as a natural-born troublemaker (though not deliberately so) and Sal, in her sour, defeated way, attracted to him; the mother, father and stepbrother are Others and make predictable Other sounds. One character disappears just when things start to tighten and Act Two has its soapbox moments but THE MOONLIGHT ROOM is definitely worth your time --- it may not be ideal family entertainment but parents and children alike will benefit from crossing its two-way street.
Paul Melone has put together a near-perfect quintet and allows them plenty of breathing space so that they are eloquent even during long stretches of silence though the laid-back atmosphere is more suburban than metropolitan --- to play a New Yorker, any New Yorker, start with “compressed” --- and the regroupings between scenes stops the realism, cold (example: a character, in semi-darkness, grabs a coat from here and curls up on it, there, and is sound asleep when the lights return). Tracee Chino and Ian Michaels are bang-on as the misguided teens: Ms. Chino’s Sal is immediately recognizable as one of those pseudo-Valley Girls, ever tucking in her chin and shooting sideways glances (someone has made sure that her jean hems are raggedy); and Mr. Michaels is inspired casting as Josh, playing him as a hyper fallen angel rather than a punk; when Josh boasts of his chess-playing championships, you believe him and what wrong went along the way? (Notice his slumping to one side when Mr. Wells lights into him; this Josh has been punched into corners, before.) David Jackson is bland as Mr. Wells but David Krinitt’s low-key handling of the stepbrother saves Adam from egghead caricature. As excellent as Ms. Chino and Mr. Michaels are, Cheryl McMahon’s Mrs. Kelley claimed my attention, throughout --- Ms. McMahon, often cast as comical nags or busybodies, is a link to those character players in 1930s films who did little to alter their personas but who were always welcome assets. Had a somber actress been cast as Mrs. Kelley, Sal’s antagonism would have been justified; with Ms. McMahon not changing a single goosey note, the results are funny but poignant: here is a working class woman stomped on by Life, harboring a fair share of resentment but still filling to the brim with an overbearing decency; the type of parent to make a teenager cringe but is always there as unacknowledged bedrock. No doubt Ms. McMahon will become conventional again when inserted into future productions but for now she has caught fire in what may prove to be her own Amanda Wingfield.