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The Red Room

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - July 13, 2016

Meghan E. Jones
Photo by Michael Bernstein

A quest for justice among the members of a barely functional family makes for a disconcerting evening of theater in The Shelter's overwrought production of Morgan McGuire's decidedly frenetic play, The Red Room, opening tonight at TBG Theatre.

Cooler heads are unlikely to prevail when the Hodge siblings get together, even in the best of times. And this assuredly is not the best of times. The gathering over Thanksgiving, a holiday that itself carries a reputation as a trigger for an airing of family grievances, takes place just prior to an important court appearance. All present are expected to make victim impact statements before the sentencing of the man who stabbed and killed their brother six years previously.

The keeper of the flame of vengeance is Kate (Meghan E. Jones), a veritable fury who insists they stand as one and demand the maximum allowable penalty. "Watching him asphyxiate in a gas chamber would be my first choice," she says, though since the state of California where they live currently bars the death penalty, she'll settle for a life term. Kate will not be moved by any of her siblings who might think otherwise, not her sister Ceeci (Jessica O'Hara-Baker), who wants punishment to be tempered with forgiveness, nor their younger brother John (John DiMino), who is unsure.

It is Kate who dominates the play, so ripped apart with rage that she is willing to put her marriage at jeopardy, bully her siblings, and drag in their still-grieving and fragile parents. Under Jenny Beth Snyder's runaway-train direction, there is no letting up of the production's tone. It starts at fortissimo and rises from there, with overlapping and rapid-fire dialog that shows this to be a boisterous and strong-willed family. Woe betide any non-family member (and there are several on the scene) who tries to intervene. When Ceeci's boyfriend attempts to broker a time-out, for instance, Kate venomously warns: "I realize you're new here, but in the Hodge household we do not take breaks." Not even another death that occurs during the course of the play manages to slow down the onward rush.

A more modulated approach would allow the debate between the competing notions of revenge and mercy to develop more naturally. The hyperkinetic tenor and performances make for a heightened theatrical experience, no doubt, but what is missing is the darkly comic bite that writers like Sam Shepard and Tracy Letts have been able to capture so well with their similarly-veined dysfunctional family plays. As it stands, the production of The Red Room could use one of those tranquilizer shots the siblings' mother needs to get through her days.

The Red Room
Through July 30
The TBG Theatre, 312 West 36th Street, 3rd floor
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: OvationTix

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