Emily Davis, TL Thompson (photo by Carol Rosegg)
Is This A Room
by Julia Polinsky
In Is This A Room, this brief piece of theater verité,
director/conceiver Tina Satter has brilliantly staged the transcript of an FBI
interrogation of the (incredibly named) Reality Winner, a 25-year old air force
veteran who works for a military contractor. There is no need to dramatize this
interrogation; complete with ums, uhs, coughs, and people talking over each
This A Room may not be a play, but it’s as emotionally draining as the best
plays you’ve ever seen.
Winner arrives home from the supermarket to find FBI agents in her
driveway. On scenic designer Parker Lutz’s bare, grey stage set against black
walls – a literal grey area – the agents circle this girl, get in her face,
repeat her words, and hardly givie her time to read the warrant, once they
produce it. They accuse Winner of removing classified material from a
government facility and leaking it to a news website. The agents never say what
was in the material, but the audience knows that it was a report that detailed
Russian interference in the 2016 elections.
We watch as this young woman is subjected to the interrogation,
with the agents distracting her by asking about her pets, her groceries, her
gym and workouts, her guns – they know a disturbing amount about these details
of Winner’s life and aren’t shy about letting her know it. Or intimidating her
to the breaking point. The back-and-forth between unsettling and commonplace,
between the guns and the groceries, the display of what they know and the
banality of their repeated questions, send this poor girl into a tailspin.
Watching Reality disintegrate, in Emily Davis’s superb performance, is deeply
The FBI agents force her to continue the interrogation indoors, in
the one room in her house that she does not use, the one she dislikes, the one
that makes her most uncomfortable. “Is this a room?” one unnamed agent asks.
Twice. “Is this a room?” Intimidating, much? Yes. And that’s the point.
Thomas Dunn’s lighting design, and sound design by Lee Kinney and
Sanae Yamada, mesh to highlight the moments when the actual FBI transcript was
redacted: lights black out, and an ominous sound is heard, whenever there’s
removed text. In Enver Chakartash’s excellent costume design, every garment
signals power or fragility; Reality’s cutoff shorts and untucked shirt make her
seem childlike and innocent, as do her bright yellow high-top sneakers. Frank
Boyd’s Agent Garrick is a “just a guy doing his job” khakis-and-oxford-shirt
kind of agent, the one who offers the most credible good-cop façade. TL
Thompson’s Agent Taylor is more of the utility-pants and Henley-shirt in your
face aggressor. Becca Blackwell, strapped into their FBI equipment vest,
multiple walkie talkies, and leg holster, gives their character, Unknown Male,
power and malice.
This A Room, the punishment for revealing the unknown is severe. Should it
be? That’s a central question, to the show, to Reality, and to, well, reality.
In 2018, Reality Winner was sentenced to five years and three months for
“…gathering, transmitting, or losing national defense information,” information
that turned out to be about Russian hacking of the US election. Does her
leaking that info make her a hero? Villain? Either way, she’s still in prison.
Is This a Room
Conceived and Directed
by Tina Satter
At Vineyard Theater
108 E. 15th
Engagement through January 19
Monday, Thursday @
7pm; Friday @ 8pm; Saturday @ 3pm and 8pm; Sunday@ 3pm and 7pm; additional
performances January 14, 15 @ 7pm