IS THIS A ROOM (Tina Satter/Half Straddle): 2019 Fringe review

Is-This-A-Room-Photo©PaulaCourt-1200x800This riveting drama is terrifying, but the fact that it is true—not “based on events” but a verbatim transcript — made me feel I might jump out of my skin.

Reality Winner (played by the astoundingly good Emily C Davis) is a whistleblower, currently in federal prison for accidentally discovering and then releasing evidence that there had been Russian interference in the presidential election. The result is that three FBI agents arrive at her home on June 3, 2017 with search warrants; although they (Becca Blackwell, Frank Boyd and T.L. Thompson) seem mild-mannered enough, there is something about the way they approach her, standing too close, that reveals they are highly skilled in intimidation, despite all the sweet talk about rescue dogs.

The brilliant production by Half Straddle was created and directed by Tina Satter whose curiosity led her to follow links to the transcript. She begins by having filled the theater with gray smokey mist, so that we can’t see anything clearly. The stunning lighting design by Thomas Dunn gives us a production that has been redacted: just when a name or clarity of motive might emerge, the lights go out and silence falls just for a second; blackout=inked out.

[Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 3680 Walnut Street] September 13–15, 2019; fringearts.com/event/is-this-a-room

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About the author

Toby Zinman

Toby Zinman is a recently retired professor of English at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was a Fulbright professor at Tel Aviv University and a visiting professor in China. She publishes widely and lectures internationally on American drama. Her fifth book, Replay: Classic Modern Drama Reimagined, was published by Methuen, and she published the essay, "Visions of Tragedy in Contemporary American Drama," in 2017. Zinman is also the chief theater critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. She was named by American Theatre magazine as, “one of the 12 most influential critics in America.” Her travel writing has taken her all over the world, from dogsledding in the Yukon to hiking across England.