Review: The Day Room

Image credit: Ciaran Walsh

Disease is not the illness. Disease is the symptom of the illness.

My first experience with Don DeLillo came in high school. I spent a whole summer grappling with White Noise (1985) and its unsettling depiction of the familiar; modern life as we know it, with all the technology and pop cultural jargon that we have come to accept, but that is nevertheless pervaded by a sense of death as an impeding force—an illness which we seem never capable of curing, escaping, or rationalizing. Anyone acquainted with this post-modern landscape is bound to recognize it in DeLillo’s first play 'The Day Room', where seemingly healthy patients have check-ups performed upon them to be reassured, obeying the uniformed doctors and nurses on the basis that it is the person in the uniform controls the facts. As such, it is hard not compare the two works. While not as insightful as its novel predecessor, this play retains all of DeLillo’s incredibly sharp wit and dark humour in its attempt to render the familiar absurd. Making this dialogue work on stage is no small task, and director Will Maclean deserves praise for delivering an incredibly strong opening night production which thrilled both myself and most others in the audience.

The first act is particularly strong, with Budge (Harry Brannan) and Wyatt (Arthur Barnard) combining for great scenes together as two patients caught in some indeterminate setting that we can never determine for certain. Is it an asylum? A hospital? Are the two so different? The boundaries between sanity and insanity have been tested before, but this play does it in a way that is always entertaining and highly suited for the stage—particularly that of Fitzpatrick’s Hall, which is by far Cambridge’s most intimate. While Brannan and Barnard make for excellent leads here, strong performances from the supporting cast do nothing but add to the audience’s enjoyment of the play—letting us all relish in DeLillo’s mastery of language. Producer Ciaran Walsh is a tremendous benefit here in his portrayal of Grass, resulting in delightful witticism’s like “My daughter is almost as old as I am.”

In the second act, most of the cast reprises their role in what has now turned into a scene at a down-trodden motel, leading to a welcome return by Arthur Barnard as a straight-jacketed man playing a television—a sentence that should make it clear how unique this play is. Although it never fails to entertain, this second part never quite reaches the stellar heights of the preceding act.  Shimali de Silva is such a superbly talented presence in her earlier scenes as Dr. Bazelon that her portrayal of Jolene cannot help but be less memorable. More problematically, the second act does not build upon the explorations of the first, which can be an accepted of a postmodern work wishing to avoid conventions of narrative, but it means you leave the theatre with a tempered impression of the play as a whole.

With exams looming, the question that I would ask myself is this; is it worth my time to see it? Yes, I would answer, not because the play is unequivocally great, but because it offers something different. From the intimate staging to its unique dialogue, the play is bound to surprise, entertain--and if nothing else--expose a world that appears instantly familiar and yet frightingly new.

7/10

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