The Red Room/by Christopher Knopf/directed by James J. Mellon/NoHoArts Center Ensemble/through October 28
Christopher Knopf's world premiere The Red Room , clearly reminiscent of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, has modern day repercussions in spite of its period time and place. Although appearing affluent on the surface, all members of this family dynasty are suffering. A failing business; for some, no job or money and hasty, psychological escapism. Though not a salesman, Edwin's (Brad Blaisdell) failures are compared to those of Willy Loman, more than once, and the entire structure/content of the play echo the tragic themes of Salesman with its domineering father, loyal-to-a-fault mother and struggling-to-be accepted sons. One might also recall O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night where parental weaknesses segue directly to the next generation like the plague. This is a very heavy-handed dramatic work containing gripping dialogue and incisive confrontations that require an outstanding director and cast to put them over with any degree of success. Fortunately, the NoHo Ace Ensemble is attuned to these challenges.
When the play opens, it's the late 50s/early 60s and Edwin is "rotting from being a lost cause" as he's still "hanging onto a world that has long abandoned him". This family is in the world of making movies; Edwin has been a producer, but hasn't had a hit in eleven years. Unfortunately, he hasn't moved on, reliving successes of the past. Like Willy Loman, Edwin is not only raging against the world but preventing his sons from having a life of their own. Sadly as he looks back, he sees the mistakes his own father made with him, but is helpless to improve the relationships with his own three sons (Robert W. Arbogast, Chad Coe and Lane Compton). Like father, like son. only Edwin's sons must move in another direction or face the same disintegration as Edwin. Edwin's wife Rose (Janet Fontaine) is fiercely unhappy but devoted, so devoted that she stays on Edwin's side, even if it means collapsing with him, as Linda Loman almost did with Willie.
The cast, under James J. Mellon's steadfast direction, are all superb. Blaisdell has such a strong grip on Edwin, he's thrilling to watch. In and out of reveries, Edwin rants, bellows and bullies instead of trying to change, and Blaisdell uses great control in his execution of him. Fontaine is equally wondrous as Rose. In constant motion tidying up the room, she keeps her pain under wraps, if only momentarily. Fontaine makes her an emotional volcano about to burst. Arbogast, Coe and Compton are all excellent with Compton essaying two roles: young Johnny as well as the young Edwin. The final scene with Johnny and his father is touching and heartbreaking. Smaller roles are fulfilled nicely by Don Savage, Jay Willick, Alex Robert Holmes and standout Karesa McElheny who in one of Edwin's flashback scenes plays a crafty German landlady who's been around the block more than once. Luke Moyer's lush set design and Shon LeBlanc's period costumes, especially Fontaine's dress, are spot.on.
There is little humor in Knopf's writing but the memories are so vividly described and the angst/joy so excruciatingly real that we must accept and appreciate it the way it is. The Red Room, with its riveting direction and sterling ensemble is a theatrical experience not to be missed.