Quaint and Best Forgotten Volumes, Part I: The Room

Fewer years ago than I care to remember, an audition at the LOFT Generals led to my being cast in a play intended for the Seattle Fringe Festival. The play, by a playwright with a vaguely Eastern European accent and an aversion to socks, required me and another actor to don diaphanous robes and pontificate for 90 minutes in front of a naked couple (and the hoped-for Fringe Fest audience of twenty people too lazy or frugal to run for the exit). Our speeches, the shortest of which was longer than the Gettysburg Address*, were ostensibly matters of deep philosophical and religious import, informed by the playwright’s many years of oppression under vaguely Eastern European tyrannies. Instead, his speeches read like a cross between a Ramtha leaflet and a spam email hawking pictures of anal umbrella openings. Too long to memorize in three weeks of rehearsal time and too obscure to act, the playwright’s discourses had cast and director in a panic.

A week into rehearsals, the production fell apart. Among the cast, there was much rejoicing.

This experience comes to bear on my view of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, a film that answers that age old question, “What would happen if you went back in time, hit August Strindberg in the head with a shovel, and recorded the gibberish he’d spout before passing out in his own vomit?”. As I watched, I sympathized with Wiseau’s actors, who, like my former cast-mates, often looked as lost as a mechanic who’s asked to repair a carburetor with a kumquat.

The through-line of The Room is clear enough: Lisa, bored with her fiancé, Johnny, repeatedly boinks his best friend, Mark, until Johnny finally catches them and shoots himself in the head. That’s simple enough.

But Lisa, as written by Wiseau (who also plays Johnny), is a woman devoid of sense, interest, or internal logic. She laments of her boredom, yet she never thinks to alleviate it by leaving her living room, picking up a book, turning on a television, or joining one of Northern California’s many and varied cults. Calling up Mark to demand he join her for uninspired soft-focus nooners pushes the limit of her imagination. She claims to love Mark and to want to leave Johnny for him, yet the direct approach of…well…leaving Johnny for Mark never occurs to her, perhaps because it would involve executing complex stratagems like packing a bag and opening a door.

When it comes to leaving Johnny, Lisa prefers to rely on ill-considered schemes like her half-baked ruse to set Johnny up for a false charge of drunken domestic violence. Lisa’s  ruse accomplishes little aside from giving Johnny another chance to gesticulate awkwardly and shout lines in his vaguely Eastern European accent. Her fiendish machinations foiled, Lisa returns to scheduling afternoon delight with Mark, and we never hear of the fictional beating again.

Other plot developments suffer similar fates. Lisa’s mother announces, in the middle of a rant about real estate, that she has breast cancer. Lisa tells her not to worry about it, and I guess she doesn’t because her cancer never comes up again. I should mention here that “Don’t worry about it” and “It doesn’t matter” are among the most frequently spoken sentences in The Room. And they’re right. We shouldn’t worry about what happens in the film. It doesn’t matter. Another couple appears to have regular access Johnny’s apartment for clumsy trysts on the sofa, but there’s no explanation of how they got a key or why it’s important they they have one. Don’t worry about it. It doesn’t matter. A drug dealer attacks Johnny’s ward, Denny–I’m picturing Tommy Wiseau in a Batman costume and feeling dizzy–supposedly over a drug debt. Drug problems and debts go unmentioned for the remainder of the film. Don’t worry about it. It doesn’t matter. Characters sometimes pop into the titular room, proffer unsolicited advise and opinions, and pop back out, without any explanation of who they are or why they’ve come. DWAI. IDM.

Watch a scene from The Room and put yourself in the place of one of the actors–not Wiseau, that’s too depressing. How would you play the scene? How would you construct a coherent performance out of this mess? Rank amateurs the actors may be,  but IDM, because even if Wiseau had cast Ryan Gosling and Kate Winslet in as Mark and Lisa, their performances would still be awful because the actors are being asked to play the unplayable and make the insane sensible. These poor bastards never had a chance.

So don’t hate the players, hate the idiot who wrote the rules of this game.

The blame for The Room lies solely with Tommy Wiseau, the auteur with the chainsaw sculpture looks. His $6 million cinematic burp (don’t ask where he got the money) will go down in history—go down hard if there’s any justice in this world.

By the way, there is one memory of the aborted play I was in that gives me some satisfaction. My fellow actors, the director and I got together during the second rehearsal and told the playwright that his speeches were way too long and convoluted to memorize or play effectively. He quickly revised, and by the weekend, we rehearsed in front of his writing group. They came up to us afterwards and said that the play had improved greatly, though it was still mostly awful.

A man should improve the lot of his fellows as he walks through life, I always say.

*Not Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, but Massachusetts Governor Edward Everett’s. All 10,000 words of it.

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