News & Articles
A Letter from the Artistic Director on The Well-Appointed Room
2005-2006, Volume 2
by Martha Lavey
The Well-Appointed Room is the fifth play by Richard Greenberg produced at Steppenwolf. Like the Greenberg plays previously seen on our stages, The Well-Appointed Room maintains a deep fascination with the passage of time; with the slippery relationship between event and memory, with the present as an elusive experience shaped, always, by narratives of the past and a projected future.
The Well-Appointed Room is comprised of two one-act plays. The first, “Nostalgia,” takes place in a New York City apartment. The second, “Prolepsis,” resolves itself in the same apartment (“the well-appointed room” of the play’s title) in the following year. The occupants of “the well-appointed room” are two married couples: in “Nostalgia,” a playwright and his wife; in “Prolepsis,” and accountant and his pregnant wife.
Central to Greenberg’s exploration of time in The Well-Appointed Room are the events of September the 11th, 2001. That date was a moment that divided time in the American consciousness, a moment that produced a distinct sense of “before” and “after.” It was a moment that encouraged both nostalgia (a wistful yearning for return to some past period or irrecoverable condition) and prolepsis (the assumption of a future act as if presently existing). Americans have tended, since September the 11th, to both long for a past dominated by a sense of confidence and inviolability, and to predict a future. The Well-Appointed Room explores both of these tendencies, playing them out in the domestic key in the lives of two couples. “The well-appointed room” that contains them is 20th century America –“one of those great 1960s buildings that everybody used to think were so ugly until they thought they were so beautiful,” and were “built like brick outhouses.” A tasteful place. A secure place.
The events in the life of the couple of “Nostalgia” recapitulate the American experience at the moment of September the 11th. The playwright, our representative of the confident, optimistic American, is cooking the perfect breakfast on the perfect Sunday morning. His wife enters the room and proceeds to explode their perfect day. She dismantles her husband’s confident narrative and identifies the childhood recollections chronicled in his plays as “nostalgia” for a time that never, in fact, existed. In other words, she reconstructs the narrative. In a moment in time.
The couple in “Prolepsis,” Mark and Gretchen, meet in the year 2000, in New York City, at a bus stop in the rain. Their happy courtship, their marriage, their welcome pregnancy are breezily narrated by Mark and they find themselves, several years later, the new occupants of the same “well-appointed room.” Mark represents the new American, post 2001, and everything is perfect until Gretchen goes for a walk in the rain (rain, again) and meets another kind of man. This encounter disrupts the couple’s sunny narrative and forces them into “prolepsis” - an uncertain future that seems to have already been lived.
The tantalizing question Greenberg proffers in his presentation is: if we could see the future, would it change our current course of action? If we are condemned to death, do we withdraw from life? If life does not, necessarily, conform to the happy, successful narrative we may have assumed, can we live it? And how? Set in the context of a national moment – 9/11, 2001 – these questions resonate out into questions of national identity and agency. If America believes itself, in the sunny optimism and protected safety of the well-appointed room, triumphant and secure, does that make it so? Do we learn from our history? Do we learn from a future apprehended?
The Well-Appointed Room continues Richard Greenberg’s witty, complex and playful exploration of personal and social history. It advances his inquiry into time and its vestiges by positioning its characters against a national moment that serves as a marker of time, a moment that created a before and after. We welcome you to a playful engagement with questions both whimsical and profound. We are proud to present, for the fifth time, a play by one of American theater’s most engaged and inquiring playwrights.