Review: Bloody family secrets of ‘The Red Room’

Asya Danilova

  • OnStage New York Critic

Set on Thanksgiving, The Red Room, a new play by Morgan McGuire introduces us to one disturbed family for which this day carries a different meaning. Three Hodges siblings are visiting their parents Gerald (Thomas F. Walsh) and Jeannie (Sheila Stasack) in Northern California anticipating the sentencing of the murderer of their brother Tommy. The tragic event that happened four years ago still haunts the family and is about to bring more pain and destruction. 

Two sisters, older Kate (Meghan E. Jones) and younger Ceeci (Jessica O’Hara-Baker) hold opposite opinions on justice and forgiveness, which fuels the main conflict of the play. But even before the painful past and the tragic present enter the room, the atmosphere is very unsettling. The homey living room designed by Christopher Bowers is put together with much love and attention to detail. A wooden staircase leads to the unseen upstairs, and the old-fashioned furniture looks inviting. As we “zoom out” we see that the stage is a stand-alone construction with its edge lit red, its posts buried in a sea of documents. The walls are tiled with the same documents creating the space of a mad researcher.     

 Michael Kingsbaker and Meghan E. Jones in The Red Room. Photo by Michael Bernstein.

Michael Kingsbaker and Meghan E. Jones in The Red Room. Photo by Michael Bernstein.

Patrick’s (Michael Kingsbaker) foreplay with his wife, Kate, is interrupted by the arrival of Ceeci and her boyfriend (Rob Brinkman) accompanied by John (John DiMino), the youngest in the family. The chatter rises up as multiple people start talking at the same time. It becomes especially hard to hear what anybody is saying when the baby monitor goes on. The longer Kate ignores her baby’s cry, the more irritation it causes the members of the family and the audience. A scene follows this supposedly hyper-realistic situation of overlapping dialogues where John talks on the phone “outside,” located in the foreground, but we only see him moving his lips. I don’t know which director’s decision threw me off more; the silent phone call or the cacophony.

Probably the only time when overlapping dialogue is appropriate and well orchestrated by the director, Jenny Beth Snyder, is the visit of Melissa (Orisa Henderson), the Deputy District Attorney. This is one of the most intense and nicely timed dialogues I’ve heard in the theater lately. As Melissa is trying to explain the importance of the presence of the family during the sentencing, Kate, who is obsessed with revenge, is constantly interrupting. In her usual manner she is trying to overpower everybody in the room but suddenly meets a firm resistance from her younger sister, Ceeci. 

Meghan E. Jones delivers a heated performance with quite a few explosions as her anger shakes the air in the room. Her pregnancy adds an edge to the character, making it more complex and three-dimensional. The aura of purity and meekness that stereotypically surrounds a pregnant woman is shattered to pieces by Jones’ aggressive and violent energy. Her mimicry and gesticulation is sharp and exaggerated in the moments of the argument when she is not speaking, which provides a statement as powerful as the opponent’s. 

The intrigue of the The Red Room’s plot is built on revealing the facts of the past. A tragic event triggers the conflict to explode. The sadness and ugliness in the family is brought to the surface as we see Hodges’ deal with it. The problem is that from the very beginning the sad and ugly was too close to the surface both in the text of play and the performances. I was numb by the culmination. The same goes for the printed documents in which the stage is sinking. It’s already there, right in your face, so when the two younger siblings finally address it towards the end, there is no wow-effect for which the changing lighting (Joe Cantalupo) and ambient music (sound design by Aidan Meyer) call.   
The Red Room is produced by The Shelter Theatre Company. The show runs through July 30th, Thursday - Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm. TGB Theatre is located at 312 West 36th Street, between 8th & 9th Avenues. Tickets are $18, available at 212-352-3101 or