DCist Review

By Missy Frederick

August 8, 2008

Rooms Wakes Up the August Theater Scene

Doug Kreeger and Nastascia Diaz star in Rooms: A Rock Romance, at MetroStage in Alexandria this month

2008_0808_theater.jpgWhat the hell is one of the season's most vibrant, exciting new works doing debuting in August in an off-the-beaten-path, half empty Alexandria theater?

It's a question best not dwelt upon for long - it's much more interesting to talk about the joys of Rooms: A Rock Romance, the new musical currently being showcased at MetroStage. Taking on a new musical can be a dicey enterprise, but Rooms is a triumph; a work which moves along an intensely stirring, accessible plot by pulsating rock music that services the story rather than interrupts it.

We already learned from the Academy Award-winning Once that tales about comely, accented singer/songwriters falling in love as they make music can lead to some compelling storytelling, and Rooms has that same sort of appeal. Watching Monica's (Nastascia Diaz) and Ian (Doug Kreeger)'s journey from musical partners to lovers happens naturally and inevitably, and the role music plays in their lives and loves adds a certain urgency to the score. The unapologetic intimacy of the two-person show calls to mind other harsh, real-world musicals, like Jason Robert Brown's cyclical The Last Five Years.

"Authenticity" is the word that kept springing to mind as Rooms progressed. Not only is the chemistry between Diaz and Kreeger palpable and charged, the trials the characters undergo and the way they respond to circumstance are wholly believable and deserving of empathy. Rooms is unabashedly emotional, whether it be Monica's raw, desperate plea to "Bring The Future Faster" as she craves stardom, or Kreeger's chillingly frank dissection of the hold alcohol has on him. Paul Scott Goodman's lyrics are meditative and poetic while never feeling forced or flowery. There's nary a wince-worthy couplet in sight, and the songs range from bittersweet ("Little Bit of Love") to wholeheartedly hilarious ("Scottish Jewish Princess", Monica's misguided attempt to bring a little edge to a lame bat mitzvah gig).

Kreeger and Diaz are impeccably cast, he a smokey brooder, she an unstoppable dynamo; their musical theater-trained voices are just as at home here in a more rock opera setting. But seeing Rooms is about more than catching two outrageous performances. There's the undeniable sense that Goodman and his writing partner, Miriam Gordon, might just be part of the burgeoning movement to craft a truly modern musical, one that can stand proudly with recent worthy attempts like Spring Awakening, The Heights and even L.A.'s Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson.

Rooms runs through Sept. 7 at MetroStage. Tickets are available online.

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