Review: ‘The Room Sings” while beavers dance

Asya Danilova

  • OnStage Associate New York Critic

Sitting in the audience of The Room Sings, I am constantly questioning the sanity of what I see, even though I am at La MaMa, the legendary experimental theater where the traditional theater is historically challenged. But I guess this is an appropriate reaction for the musical in which The Room is the main character.

Ellen Maddow, cofounder of The Talking Band and the composer of The Room Sings, plays the lead. Dressed in a classy suit (costumes by KiKi Smith), the layering of which resembles crumbled old wallpaper, The Room introduces us to the inhabitants of the house over the past 70 years.  

Paul Zimet, the writer and director of The Room Sings, succeeded at assembling quirky and unexpected characters. The only obvious connection between them is the house in the woods that they all inhabited at some point in time. But Zimet bends the time line and modifies the space by rotating multiple units of the set designed by Nic Ularu.     

In the head spinning kaleidoscope we see: two old siblings (Tina Shepard and Jack Wetherall) at each other’s throats in 1943; the duo of teenage Oscar (Luka Kain) and an old Chinese man, Mr. Ma, coping with their losses, fears and each other; a love triangle of two brothers, Al (Joe Roseto) and Sal (Andrew Weems), and Loretta (Theresa Mccarthy) writing an opera at their hunting lodge in 1987; a married couple, Hope (Abigail Ramsey) and Sidney (Will Budgett), and Hope’s widowed father William (James Himelsbach) selling the house in 2015. Every drama is accompanied by it’s own unique soundtrack coming out of the transistor radio, mostly distracting and unnecessary.   

The worlds of spirits and animals, such as porcupines, skunks and beavers, all have their share of the property and are at constant war with the human tenants. The video projections by Baxter Engle feature mostly peaceful landscapes contrasting with the fears and cruelties of the human nature ruling inside the house.

The Room Sings while having some major flaws, nevertheless, has its divine moments. We forgive Ellen Maddow her dull singing voice, trying to catch up in energy and speed with the recording, for the touching absurdist poetry of Zimet’s songs. We forgive week acting for the masterful puppetry, designed by Ralph Lee.

As the beavers from the puppet opera say, the humans are difficult to grasp at times, especially if the room tells the story.                                           

The Room Sings produced by The Talking Band runs through April 16th at the La MaMa’s Ellen Stewart Theatre located on 66 E 4th Street. Shows are Wednesday to Saturday at 7pm, Saturday matinee at 2pm, Sunday at 4pm. Tickets are $30 for adults, $20 for students and seniors, and a limited amount at $10 is available. Run time is 75 minutes with no intermission. Photo: Suzanne Opton