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A Sprawling Virginia Woolf Reading ‘Room’

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A towering and tormented figure, Virginia Woolf experienced life through the distorted prism of her own troubled mind. As her writings reveal, Woolf was subject to manic mood swings, periods of despair countered by intense raptures--her most fertile artistic periods--that led her to pour forth her swirling emotions into precise, pointed prose. Her life ended in suicide, but Woolf’s enduring legacy of proto-feminist essays and stream-of-consciousness fiction paved the way to the modern novel.

“Room,” the solo show about Woolf playing at UCLA’s Freud Playhouse through Saturday, is a fittingly unconventional yet pointed treatment of Woolf’s life and work, directed by Obie-winning experimental director Anne Bogart. Bogart is perhaps most famous for her development of the Viewpoints, an elaborate and arcane method of theatrical training inspired by the teachings of Japanese theater maven Tadashi Suzuki. The SITI Company, the New York City and Saratoga Springs-based theater collective founded and headed by Bogart, gets a “created by” credit for the piece.

As with SITI’s past works, “Room” is the result of an ensemble process. However, the quorum of cooks only add more spice to this rich intellectual stew, a free sampling of Woolf’s own works performed by longtime Bogart collaborator Ellen Lauren, the associate artistic director at SITI.

Frequent SITI collaborator Jocelyn Clarke adapted Woolf’s works to the stage. The flow of the narrative is appropriately sprawling, mimicking Woolf’s own famously digressive style. Yet at times, Clarke’s adaptation overflows its banks, especially with its treatment of Woolf’s childhood molestation, which is never adequately integrated or explained.

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Inappropriate discursions aside, there is an overarching rigor to the production itself, an uncompromising fine-tuning of pacing and detail. The play commences as a conventional “lecture” before spiraling into uncharted territory. Initially, Woolf/Lauren, our “lecturer,” stands motionless and erect, addressing the audience with well-modulated restraint. Then suddenly, Lauren’s head jerks, her arm jerks upward, her body bends at a harsh angle.

Lauren’s masterly economy of movement, combined with Bogart’s unerring compositional sense, is breathtaking.

Neil Patel’s deceptively simple white box of a set--the famous “room of one’s own” that Woolf insisted was essential to any literary endeavor--takes on unexpected depth through a back scrim. Christopher Akerlind’s virtuosic lighting emphasizes the abrupt changes of subject with split-second precision. Darron L. West’s evocative “soundscape” is an integral background of music and sound.

Like Van Gogh before her, Woolf spent a lifetime trying to capture her manic epiphanies in her art. “Room” dignifies that struggle in this indelible stage portrait.

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“Room,” Freud Playhouse, 405 Hilgard Ave., on the UCLA campus. Today through Saturday, 8 p.m. $35. (310) 825-2101. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes (no intermission).


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