When I meet Naomi Simpson and Julian Cervello, director and assistant director of Langham Court Theatre’s upcoming production, The Small Room at the Top of the Stairs, I feel as though I’m the newest guest at a secret special party. They lean in as they talk about their plans and hopes for the play. They are both actors first; this will be their directorial debut but they’ve worked together before. As I write, auditions are just getting underway. Simpson and Cervello agree that casting will be the most important decision they make.
While the two are shy about revealing much of the plot, they promise beauty and horror and a surrealistic dreamscape. Written in 2012 by Quebec artist Carole Frechette and translated by playwright John Murell, the play is billed as a psychological thriller with allusions to the classic thriller films of the 1960s. Promotional materials describe the story of a new wife, gifted with a 28-room mansion by her adoring mate. There is only one area off limits: a small room at the top of the stairs. Of course, she becomes obsessed with the room and the result highlights the tension of hidden spaces within familial relationships and the inevitable paradox of sharing and withholding in love.
Rooms have been used as a symbolic device in women’s writing before now. Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story, “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Emma Donoghue’s, “The Room” spring to mind. Rooms represent domestic life and the constrained freedom of women in a male-dominant society, and all three works explore the psychological effect of controlling a woman’s movements. These plays are intimate illustrations of how the politics of sexism become personal to the point of madness.
After the interview, on fire with the imagination and excitement of Simpson and Cervello, I consider all that’s been said as I walk into the night, and contemplate the things I can’t know until the curtain opens this fall. I know it will be beautiful, intimate and tense but I’m not sure about the backbone of this play. I send a short text message back to Simpson, still sitting with Cervello at the candlelit table, talking things over. I ask her whether the play is political. Her answer is no.
The play will run from Nov. 20 to Dec. 6 of this year and student rush tickets are $10 at 15 minutes before curtain time (student ID required).