The Waiting Room
Up until the very last moment of this enjoyable evening, director Ron Himes generally keeps his actors on the right side of caricature, and Mr. Williams' script is zippy and funny, occasionally wanting to fly into song. But the story, which seems like a love-child of No Exit and Tobacco Road, telescopes into unconvincing absurdity near the end before turning into a post-sexual-revolution horror show just as the lights come down. The funny thing is that, if the final tableau (which puts a sudden, arctic chill in our blood) had been cut out, you would be reading a rave review in this space instead of the vituperations of a hopeless romantic.
In those final seconds, Riley Innes (the heartwarming Rob Demery) strolls right into the compromising position he has steadfastly avoided throughout his previous two hours on stage, without the slightest explanation for his sudden change of heart. And, whether the playwright meant that final moment on stage to be innocent or guilty, it just comes off as a ghastly mistake: two characters who've come to regard one another fondly (but no more) suddenly seem to come together out of an entirely different play about two entirely different people, for reasons that are a slander to everything they (or, at least one of them) had previously claimed to believe. And as quickly as you can say, "Bob's your uncle," as we are prepared to settle back with a sigh of contentment, we learn they are in the thrall of something so evil, they can neither understand nor avoid it. I suppose the playwright was reaching for something like, "here we go again!" Instead, his utterly unnecessary denouement whispers randomly, lasciviously, "embrace my characters, embrace my shame."
The maddening thing is that, up until about 10:17 p.m. or so, Riley Innes and all of his many relatives are quite wonderful under the fine direction of Mr. Himes on the tiny stage of the Gaslight Theater. Mr. Webb is masterful as the uncle who steers the action along with lots of verve and hilarious body-language. It's hard to pick a favorite from among the women in the cast, each one being heartwarming and true, with a great sense of their own absurdity. Rita Washington is funny and prim and bawdy as Riley's aunt, and Roman James shows great range and tenderness as the hospital nurse. Choyce Johnson and Candice Jackson pop in and out for comic filigree in characters that seem somehow underwritten. Chuck Lavazzi and William Roth do nicely as concerned neighbors, though the older man is written and directed as little more than a bumptious cartoon in act one, before developing some depth in the second half.
All are brought together in a hospital waiting room painted a hilarious shade of sickly green, on a set that cleverly folds up to take us out of doors now and then. But, in the end, The Waiting Room may be one of those "family secrets" that's best kept behind closed doors.
Through February 3, 2008. For information, call (314) 458-2978 or visit them online at www.stlas.org.
Scenic services provided by the Black Rep of St. Louis
Photo: John Lamb
*Member of United Scenic Artists