The Waiting Room – a perfect balance of vision, collaboration and execution

Waiting RoomCorningworks opened its tenth season with the thought-provoking dance theatre piece The Waiting Room. As we take our seats in the New Hazlett Theater, we are welcomed by the sight of a dimly lit coffin seemingly floating in darkness.

Beth Corning got her inspiration for The Waiting Room from the Jewish tradition of the Shomer, who serves as a guardian in that transition time between death and burial.  The role, keeping vigil, is viewed as an honor. But what do you do, think about, and pray for during those long hours sitting alone with a dead person?

As the stage lights come up signaling the start of the performance, you can’t help but notice the simplistic beauty of the coffin itself with its grained pine boards, varnished to a high sheen. The classic shape that instantly conveys its purpose.  Your own personal thoughts begin: “This tree gave its life to protect another after death.”

A woman, perhaps the undertaker, is on guard in the room. Samuel arrives. He is the Shomer for the night. The woman hurriedly leaves without much explanation. Upon her departure, the Shomer realizes he does not know the identity of the person he will stand vigil over.

The second thing you notice is how hauntingly quiet the theatre is. Except for the low rumbling of the theatres’ air conditioning system, there is not a sound to be heard. It is as if we are all alone, even while we are together.

Samuel begins to settle in. As a “Shomer for hire”, he has done this before. It is important for him to give the person in the coffin an identity in order to have a connection.  After he realizes he has brought the wrong bag with him,  (the one with his workout clothes instead of the bag with his cellphone and prayer book) he worries about how he will fill the hours ahead of him.

Corning eloquently sets the situation with just a few words. It is then you realize; since the lights came up, over ten minutes ago, there has not been a single dance step. There is not a single move, just the beautiful coffin, the Shomer, the silence broken but for a few words; and all of us are singularly watching.

After the requisite small talk between the Shomer and the corpse winds down. Samuel’s thoughts and memories begin to swirl. The sands of time start to pass as the Shomer recalls the milestones in his life; his mother, the house he grew up in. And so, the dance begins.

Corning on The Waiting Room:  “Death is the ultimate elephant in the room. We don’t talk about it.  98% of cultures don’t address death. Death, however,  is a catalyst for what life really is.”

Corning has long recognized that connections and our relationship with others are a crucial aspect of our lives. Free from the constraints of running a traditional dance company, she calls upon those connections to cast her works and to create the environment for the performance. You will note in the program bios, the performers, designers, author, choreographer, and director are not separated into groups, dancers and creatives, but are listed together in alphabetical order. This is a truly collaborative effort between all the artists involved.

Jacob Goodman is Samuel, the Shomer. Corning cast Goodman because she wanted someone who could be a “real person.”  Goodman’s performance is both subtle and stunning in its believability. Goodman delivers what will surely be one of this season’s most memorable performances.

Corning, who is credited for choreography, concept, texts and costume design (with Lindsey Scherloum) also has a performance role as the Shomer’s mother. Catherine Meredith plays/dances several characters including a significant memory of Samuel’s growing up in a high rise. John Carson rounds out the cast, initially as a just silent observer. His talents are nebulous to this performance until he breaks out in a wistful song and we are left to wonder what his relationship is to the others.

The design collaborators are in Corning’s words “a design dream team” – with many of the work’s ideas coming from the designers. The projections designed and executed by Jakob Marsico and Jessica Medenbach are complex yet stylistically simplistic in keeping with Stephanie Mayer-Staley minimalist approach to the set design. Her design seamlessly facilitates the projections and reveals Samuel’s childhood memories.  The lighting design by Iain Court artfully shapes and sculpts the performers along with the performance space.

Corning’s choreography mostly avoids a frenetic pace in favor of an almost slow-motion approach that creates hauntingly powerful moments that reflect the journey of life. The dances will no doubt trigger your own memories of key moments in your life. There is a power in the choreography’s deliberate moves.

An example of the collaborative creative effort: Samuel comments on the pace of life, noting that if we were to stand still in one place long enough our shoes would eventually be covered over in dirt and we would be stuck in one place. He then proceeds to take off his shoes in anticipation of the long night. As he does, what seems to be an enormous amount of sand pours out from each of his shoes, which he then cleans up. At that moment we begin to hear what initially sounds like rain, only it is sand, a slow steady stream from on high in the theatre, glowing in light, the sands of time.

It is rare when the vision of the production’s creator and all of their collaborator’s ideas manifest themselves in perfect balance.  The Waiting Room has that balance, the ideal unity of creative vision that makes for a compelling, memorable, and thought-provoking work of art.

Come to The Waiting Room, in this case, you won’t be disappointed.

 Performances are today through September 9that the New Hazlet Theater. For tickets visit https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3515029

Categories: Archived Reviews

Tags: , , ,

%d bloggers like this: