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Furnished Rooms explores the human condition

FURNISHED ROOMS

Written and directed by Bryan David.

Starring Leslie Arnott, Mark Wagner,

and Cara Gizzarelli.

Sanders Theatre, Sep. 6 & 7, 8:30 pm.

Reviewed at rehearsal.

By DEBORAH A. LEVINSON

IT IS GENERALLY UNFAIR TO BASE ONE'S review of a performance on a rehearsal. After having seen Bryan David's Furnished Rooms, however, I feel confident that the play can make the leap from 14E-304 to Sanders Theatre.

14E-304 is not the best place to review a play. It is ideal for, say, thesis committee meetings, but it lacks adequate space and lighting to function as a stage. Still, director David and his cast made the best of their situation, using their minimal props to create the aura of a full stage.

David's play operates as a set of seemingly-unrelated scenes that subtly merge together to tell the story of Miss Higgins (Leslie Arnott). Higgins is a spinster who runs a boarding house on Commonwealth Avenue, offering cheap rooms to a variety of people -- from a runaway pregnant woman, to a gay couple meeting clandestinely, to a would-be starlet.

The first boarder we meet is Barbara Joan "Famous" -- a pseudonym she gives to Higgins, trying to pass herself off as an actress using Boston as a springboard to Broadway. Cara Gizzarelli plays Barbara Joan with refreshing exuberance, delivering lines like "Hello, Boston! . . . home of the . . . baked bean!" with glee.

While Barbara Joan moves in, Higgins takes tea -- with the ghost of Henry O'Henry (Mark Wagner), a boarder with whom she had fallen in love. The interaction between them is limited, as Higgins communicates by talking to a picture of O'Henry, and O'Henry, dressed in black with a mime's makeup, commiserates behind her. They never see each other, yet it is clear that their relationship is as strong as that between any of the living. Their scenes are tender and charming: both Arnott's and Wagner's faces are so expressive that they hardly need dialogue to convey the emotions they feel.

Other characters appear as Furnished Rooms progresses. Steven Teref plays a junkie who accidentally injects strychnine and dies in O'Henry's old room. (Teref also takes a hilarious turn as a hustler taking advantage of Higgins' "no members of the opposite sex in your room" rule.) Tina Reeves has a short stint as an aging, streetwise hooker who knows the story behind the junkie's death. But the major relationships play out between O'Henry and Higgins and Higgins and Barbara Joan, and the minor characters' scenes are just that: interesting interludes, but not central to the plot.

Furnished Rooms clocks in at about 45 minutes, criminally short for a $15 ticket price. (At least part of the proceeds go to help the Pine Street Inn, a homeless shelter.) The play's length is disappointing, not just because of the price tag, but also because there were some crucial scenes between Higgins and Barbara Joan that were missing. By the middle of the play, Higgins and Barbara Joan are talking like old friends, but the audience never sees the scenes in between, where they get over their initial hostilities and learn to care about each other. Their friendship, while integral to the resolution of the play, is jarring when presented in this way. Another scene, even one only five minutes long, would have helped a great deal.

Still, one can take comfort in the fact that one's $15 is not merely the charge for an evening (albeit a short one) of entertainment. It is also a way to contribute to a worthy cause. Furnished Rooms, though flawed, shows great promise for Bryan David. Let's just hope he writes a little more next time.