Enda Walsh’s play ‘Rooms’ is both familiar and strikingly original. The Galway International Arts Festival’s production is currently running at Cybert Tire, the future home of The Irish Arts Center in Manhattan. The space was without doubt a tire place until very recently. As we are lead up a narrow staircase it feels more like a visit to the tenement museum than a night at the theatre.
At the top of the stairs, in an open plan area of the tire shop we find three prefabricated buildings. Room 303, Kitchen and A Girl’s Bedroom. Guests split into three groups and each group begins in a different room. Each story lasts 15 minutes. All of these rooms will be familiar to everyone. The audience is welcome to explore the room, to look around, open drawers and shelves for a couple of minutes before the stories begin. Each story is narrated by recorded voice. This technique lends to each tale, the sense that its occupant is both present and absent.
Room 303 is musty and dark. Its sad, worn out wallpaper and carpet mirroring its occupant’s condition. The Kitchen is the kitchen of a million Irish homes. The same kettle. The same bread. The same washing machine. The same fridge. Though here opened cupboards reveal broken cups and the kitchen window looks out at nothing. In ‘A Girl’s Bedroom’ there are stuffed toys, posters and glow in the dark planets. Each seemingly unconnected story touches on different forms of loneliness. The loneliness of childhood, the loneliness of the abusive relationship and the loneliness of old age.
‘Rooms’ is a remarkable, intimate and moving experience. Through the minimal tools of recorded voice, excellent set design and spartan lighting, we are fully immersed in the struggles of the narrators. It is something of a surprise to emerge forty five minutes later in a tire shop on the west side of Manhattan.
Finally, for us New Yorkers who so frequently feel under pressure for time and money, ‘Rooms’ is just 45 minutes long and tickets are a very reasonable $20.