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Is This A Room

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 other, Is 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 disturbing.


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. Intimidation works.


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.


In Is 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 St

Limited Return Engagement through January 19

Monday, Thursday @ 7pm; Friday @ 8pm; Saturday @ 3pm and 8pm; Sunday@ 3pm and 7pm; additional performances January 14, 15 @ 7pm

Tickets $45-120

Box office: 212-353-0303