Theatre Review: MadLab’s Haunting, Sparse ‘The Spare Room’
MadLab opens their 2019-20 season with a regional premiere of The Spare Room, Dakota C. Hill’s meditation on love in the face of tragedy, directed by James Blackmon.
The Spare Room traces the reverberations forward and backward in time made by a short, sharp shock of a tragedy that set the cozy, domestic love between Norman (Stephen Manos) and Jackson (Dallas Ray) into a tailspin. Heather Caldwell as Regan, the home health aide for Norman, and Christian Hall as Lance, Jackson’s confidant who wants to be more, round out the cast.
Hill’s play – a tight hour – packs deep truth about the sheer difficulty of trying to do the right thing, the way love doesn’t fade when someone is incapacitated, but it also doesn’t override frustration. Time blurs and overlaps, so we’re confronted with Norman’s charming, debonair, full-of-life self Jackson fell in love with melting into the present version: sitting for days in a bathrobe, barely able to form a word.
Manos’ and Ray’s virtuosic performances achieve fascinating synchronicity with Blackmon’s muscular, sympathetic direction. At its best, The Spare Room is a lovely, heartbreaking fable. It falls apart when it tries for a more defined plot – it’s so hard to believe any nurse would say “I could kill you with my bare hands,” in the course of a job they’re hired for; moments like that threw me out of the play.
While Hill’s play needs more flesh on its strong bones, Blackmon and the actors find the gold. Its shattered-glass beauty and sharpness gets a beautiful showcase and the warm, vibrant feel for these people and this untenable situation make even the rough parts more bearable than they would be in other hands.
The Spare Room runs through October 26 with performances at 8:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For tickets and more info, please visit madlab.net/the-spare-room.