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In a Little Room

Theatre Review by Marc Miller - September 12, 2017

Luis-Daniel Morales, David Triacca, and Jeb Kreager
Photo by Zachary Zirlin Photography

This one's a find. Pete McElligott's In a Little Room takes place, in fact, in a little room, a strangely underpopulated hospital waiting room, rather impressively designed by Zachary Zirlin for the small black-box stage at The Wild Project. It's antiseptic and depressing: gray chairs, worn tile floor, too many old magazines. And not a lot happens in it, except that Charlie (Luis-Daniel Morales) and Manning (Jeb Kreager), both recent recipients of devastating news about loved ones, meet, chat, mourn, and pass the time in a pas de deux of confrontation, avoidance, procrastination, and philosophizing. Oh, and the hospital around them may be burning down.

Doesn't sound like much, does it? But McElligott, whose writing credits are relatively sparse, has a sharp, original voice, and a way of teasing surprising but believable humor out of tragedy. In a Little Room begins with someone spilling cold coffee on someone else, catching us immediately off guard, and telling us anything can happen. More surprises are on the way, and McElligott is particularly graceful at introducing notes of sadness among the joke-telling, magazine quizzes, and other efforts Manning and Charlie are embracing to dodge their dark prospects.

McElligott loves words. He delights in malapropisms—the room they're in must be safe, Manning says, because the walls are "fire retarded." He has a bracing monologue on the derivation of "hunky-dory," which, whether it's true or not (apparently there's some disagreement about that), felicitously exposes Manning as a collector of trivia, an expert on irrelevant knowledge, and a possible ADD casualty. He sure leaps about: "Do you just reset every two minutes?" Charlie asks him. Charlie has issues of his own, beyond the immediate shock he's suffered, and when he finally blurts out about the departed, "She was an overpowering bitch," it's both unexpected and perfectly logical.

They're two guys chewing the fat, under extraordinary circumstances. They don't want to deal with death, so they deal with everything else. Kreager, the only Equity member, is a terrific Manning—affable, distracted, and able to convey the depth of feeling beneath the blithe surface. Morales, required at one point to lose his temper, goes way overboard—might director Patrick Vassel be to blame?—and it's a while before we trust him again. Once back on solid ground, he stays there. David Triacca, required to be a) the guy who gets coffee spilled on him, b) a polite but officious doctor, and c) a safety specialist who drops in to tell a really funny dirty joke and to philosophize on the meaning of life, is comfortable in all three skins.

It ends kind of in mid-thought, and I'd like to know whether Manning, possibly about to be consumed in flames, makes it out. Also, some salient details go missing: We never hear about what he does, or if he has a wife, or why she isn't there. McElligott, though, is a smart, engaging voice we'll want to hear more from, and In a Little Room adds up to 80 of the better minutes you can spend in the East Village right now.

In a Little Room
Through September 24
The Wild Project, 195 East 3rd Street between Avenue A and Avenue B
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: OvationTix