Theater Review: freeFall Theatre's Rooms at [email protected]

The plot: it’s 1977 and Monica P. Miller, Young Glasgow Jewish Entertainer of the Year, calls on Ian Wallace in his run-down flat in a working-class part of the city. Monica’s penned the lyrics to a song that she intends to deliver at a Bat Mitzvah, and she wants Ian to write the music. Monica is super-ambitious, dreams of Glasgow music halls, London stages, Madison Square Garden. Ian is a loner who loves nothing but his music, and is content sitting home all day, drinking immoderately and strumming his six-string.


Still, both feel a frisson of something besides business sense, and soon Ian is inviting Monica to join him onstage at a rowdy bar beneath his flat. They compete in a music contest and win a bus trip to London. Once in the big city, they immediately secure a recording contract as The Diabolicals, starring Lillian Filth and Perry Comatose. Almost immediately after, an American recording company gets them a gig at CBGB’s in New York City.


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While their career as punk rockers is spiking, so is their love life. But Ian finds fame disconcerting and, further, is drinking himself silly. Monica, meanwhile, has her eye on the main chance, and won’t hear a word about returning to nasty Glasgow. When Ian loses his guitar in a New York taxi, the relationship goes into crisis. Can love survive fame? Can the words thrive without the music or vice versa?


You might think that Rooms could be a terrific opportunity for riffs on the clash of class or religion, the vagaries of the fame business, the bitterness of rock capitalism or the sexual mores of the wild West. It’s none of these things. What it is is the usual can-this-relationship-last? affair, with all the much more interesting side issues ignored or only treated sketchily.


Monica and Ian’s rise to the top is so quick and frictionless, it can scarcely be believed, and a certain “twist” at show’s end must have been first dramatized, oh, 2,500 years ago. The couple’s religious differences turn out to be of no importance to the plot, and Ian’s alcoholism never gets really wicked or extreme.


The most original part of the production turns out to be Davis and Thad Engle’s set design, which has the audience in two facing halves divided by a long center aisle in which most of the action takes place. Goodman’s songs are handled best by Fenton, though Kaplan is strong when she’s not singing in the higher registers. The show’s costumes, also by Davis and Engle, are impeccably chosen.


I had a lot of mixed thoughts as I walked out of The [email protected] after seeing Rooms. I thought how professional this freeFall production was, in spite of the text’s defects. I thought how difficult it is to write even one song that will move people deeply. And mostly I thought about my expectation that, in this entertainment-surfeited world, a new voice will always have something new to offer us. My main problem with Rooms is that, for all its unfamiliar surfaces, it has nothing to say. It doesn’t even give us much of a sense of Glasgow.


But man, when this show starts, does the future look inviting.

Paul Scott Goodman and Miriam Gordon's Rooms: a rock romance starts off with unlimited promise but eventually becomes unconvincing and predictable.

This story of two punk rockers from Glasgow, one a super-ambitious Jewish lyricist and the other a mopey, introverted lapsed Catholic composer, seems so original at first, it doesn’t appear possible that it could ever degenerate into cliché. But halfway into Rooms, all the specificity and novelty of the story disappear, and it becomes clear that what we’re witnessing is the same old Boy Meets Girl formula with obligatory dissonance and then the inevitable Hollywood ending.

If Goodman’s songs were more attractive, maybe we wouldn’t so much mind. But with a few exceptions, the music of Rooms is immediately forgettable, and Goodman’s lyrics, though often intelligent, seldom transcend their settings.

Rooms does have some real virtues – the ingratiating acting of Nicole Kaplan and Graham Fenton, most prominently, plus Eric Davis’ kinetic staging, and the playing of the live band, directed by Matt Hinkley. Still, the end result is an odd hybrid: one ignores the narrative, enjoys the acting, merely tolerates the music, finds real flair in the direction. This is a show that does some things very well. And some things with only a bare success.

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