Review: “The Interrogation Room” at San Francisco International Arts Festival (***1/2)

by Charles Kruger

Uniformed bureaucrats process audience members trying to apply for citizenship in the “Statehood of SAMCHRIAVID” in the immersive theatre piece, “The Interrogation Room” at the San Franicsco International Arts Festival. Photo Credit: SFIAF.
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

When audience members arrive at The FIrehouse for “The Interrogation Room” they find themselves completely immersed in what might be any office of a government bureaucracy. Seated uncomfortably in rows of chairs (think of the DMV or the Unemployment Office) and lorded over by indifferent guards making petty demands, one’s first reaction might be amused giggles.

But pretty soon, you realize there will be no play. This is almost a “real experience.” No plot unfolds. You sit and wait. Bureaucrats pass out questionnaires with absurd and unanswerable questions. (E.g., how many times have you previously applied for citizenship, 2, 3, or 5?)

Names are called, often mispronounced. Guards walk around with absurd props (eg., oversized measuring tapes) making ridiculous demands, such as measuring the length of  one’s arms.

Over the course of about an hour, the experiences become increasingly surreal. You might be asked to enter a second room where a guard might flirt with you, or threaten to hit you. Then your paper work might be lost.

As I spent an hour in this Kafkaesque envornment, I found that I felt more and more as if this were really happening. The environment was that convincing. I and several other audience members began to discuss what we were experiencing. Guards shut us up and separated us.

While at times, uncomfortable, there is nothing boring about “The Interrogation Room.” It is too real and too frightening. All of this is helped by the very striking visual aspects of setting and props and costumes. Simultaneously real and absurd, they provoke laughter but will also give you the creeps. There is also an excellent soundscape that includes bureaucratic sounds (the thud of a date stamp on a desk, footstamps, talk from other rooms), ambient noises (traffic, sirens, doors opening and closing), and, gradually and subtly, the sounds of what may be people being tortured in hidden rooms (muffled screams, the thud of a fist on a face, whips?) and other mysterious sounds that are hard to place.

Look as I might, I could find no credits for the excellent setting, costumes, and soundscape in the material provided by the company and this mystery seems to be in keeping with the surreal aspects of the entire adventure.

I can tell you something of the interesting cast, however. They are: Marie Faini, Chris Hambrick, David Moren, Sameena Sitabkhan, Julie Thi Underhill, Star Ghanaat, Paul Loper, Dorothy Santos, and Lisa Wynn.

Of this large cast, only two list performance credits in their resume. And of those two, one is a Ph.D. who teachers at a business school (Paul Loper), another lists as one of her credits the experience of being the victim of a tragic incident in which she was shot seven times (Lisa Wynn.)  All of their resumes focus on their work as community activisits. This company is passionate about what they have to say.

We should listen.

Rating: ***1/2 (for an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

“The Interrogation Room” has one more performance at the San Francisco Arts Festival, this afternoon (May 27) at 2 p.m. in The Firehouse at Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture.

Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture (FMCAC) hosts The Interrogation Room performances as part of the San Francisco International Arts Festival, which runs from May 24, 2018 to June 3, 2018 exclusively at FMCAC. The Festival features more than 60 performances by close to 40 different artists, ensembles, and companies. Get discounts on tickets to see multiple shows at the Festival by buying a Festival pass. More details HERE.

One thought on “Review: “The Interrogation Room” at San Francisco International Arts Festival (***1/2)

  1. Thank you so much for reviewing The Interrogation Room during SFIAF. We were pleased to read that you “got” many of the notes we were aiming to strike. To that end, while the nation state of Samchriavid wishes to be seen as a monolithic power, we also thought it prudent to furnish you with some production credits. They are as follows:

    Script Writers: Maria Faini, David Moren, and Julie Thi Underhill
    Set Design and Construction: Alfredo Arroyo, Maria Faini, Tony Sgroi, and Sameena Sitabkhan
    Scenic Designer/Graphics: Sameena Sitabkhan
    Costume Designer: Chris Hambrick
    Sound Designer: Chris Hambrick

    This project was conceived and developed by Maria Faini, Chris Hambrick, David Moren, and Sameena Sitabkhan as part of the Why Citizenship? fellowship at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA). An earlier version of this program premiered at YBCA’s Public Square in summer 2017.


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