Encore Michigan

Ixion paints surreal view of an uncertain future with ‘White Room’

Review October 24, 2018 Bridgette Redman

LANSING, Mich.–Different literature requires different approaches. We read non-fiction differently than we do fiction, than we do poetry, than we do essays.

Likewise, different types of plays require different approaches from the audience. There are musicals, comedies, tragedies, dramedies, etc. There are plays steeped in realism, others are melodramas, others are romances.

Ixion’s current production, Welcome to the White Room, falls in the category of absurdist drama in the tradition of Harold Pinter, Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco or Edward Albee. In the tradition of its forerunners, playwright Trish Harnetiaux does away with most traditional structures of realist theater. Don’t expect a plot, character development or easily identifiable dramatic action.

Rather, prepare yourself for a presentation of ideas that are open to interpretation.

There are some things you can, perhaps, be sure of.

The room is white.

There are, at first, three people in it, all of whom know each other and all of whom have achieved some degree of greatness in their field, which might be some form of gaming.

It is also set in either a dystopian future or some alternative world in which all forms of physical games, cards, jacks, board games, jump ropes, even Hungry Hungry Hippos, have been confiscated and destroyed. Instead, people are plugged into electronic games and devices each more obscure than the next. Some people even have catheters installed so they can game without such annoying interruptions as physically relieving themselves.

The three people in the room are competitors and collaborators, working on an uncertain task that they must figure out and racing against time without certain knowledge of the deadline.

Jacquelyn Marks brings a prim intelligence to the part of Ms. White, a self-proclaimed child genius in nanotechnology and the working of the brain. She is controlled, mentally brilliant and very proud of her work, which she narrates with a calm authority. Marks is expressive, communicating much with sharp pauses, disapproving glowering and thoughtful moments of acquiescence.

Paul Schmidt instills Jennings with a Britishness in his mannerisms and elevated manner of speaking without resorting to an actual accent. He is the embodiment of logic and analysis, able to take apart even the most base of urges and explain them in biological detail. It is why it is even more fascinating when Jennings waxes poetic over what might once have been called the human condition. Schmidt combines snootiness with genuine interest and engagement to the part of Jennings.

Nick Lemmer’s Mr. Paine is left to embody human instinct and emotion, but done with a layer of distance and psychoanalysis. His body engages in what we might see as natural, instinctive actions, but his brain stays detached enough to converse with the others as to the meanings of those actions. He describes what he is doing with calculated interest, the way a doctor might describe a particularly unusual tumor he has removed from a body. Lemmer manages to present this disconnect with a skill that contributes to the surreal atmosphere.

Eventually, they are joined by Patrick, played by Daniel Bonner. Once they acknowledge him, he becomes animated and excited. Bonner presents the audience with a character who feels more real, more authentic than the analytical geniuses who have thus far occupied the stage. He might be more intelligent and more real than the three of them combined, or indeed, might embody each of their characteristics.

Leo Poroshin directs this absurdist show and he does so with a willingness to let the script go where it wants to go without forcing on it a single interpretation. He commits to telling the story and guides his actors to buy into the vision he has for the show. He is creative with the blocking, exhibiting an imagination that contributes yet another layer to what the playwright might be communicating. It’s especially skilled in the scenes where each participant tests his or her signature device.

The set, built by Jeff and SaDonna Croff, is simple, but completely in unison with what the playwright’s demands are for this show. The two also produce some clever props that provide such necessary effects as eerie glows or being edible.

By the end of the one-hour show, the audience is left with many questions:

What does the purple rope signify?

Who is Max, really?

Why did they need the last deck of cards in the world?

Is there really so very much life packed into the anticipation of a single kiss?

To analyze too deeply in this review or try to provide answers (or even more questions) does a disservice in two ways. It spoils the surprises in the script and it leads you down a path that might not be the journey you would otherwise take. For Welcome to the White Room is open to many different interpretations and each detail gives you a piece of a puzzle that has not a single right way to put together, but rather many different ones that will be influenced by your experiences, your outlook on life and your own set of beliefs.

Welcome to the White Room.

Click here for show and ticket details.