- Historic Sites
October 2004 | Volume 55, Issue 5
In most farces, even in some by Feydeau and Labiche, the climax of the play occurs at the end of the second act. The third act then becomes anticlimactic. But not in Room Service . It’s opening night; the play is on, and Wagner is determined to evict the theatrical tenants from the room and the theater. To ward off this disaster, Miller cons Davis (the innocent playwright) into pretending to have a near-fatal dose of food poisoning. Wagner is taken in, but Davis, exhausted by the effort, pretends to die. With still some time to go before the curtain descends on the downstairs play, Miller and Binyon, improvising wildly, hold a mock funeral, in which they persuade Wagner to participate. “Davis,” Miller says, “was a great playwright who died too soon .”
The play that Miller is producing, which is never seen, is an arty experimental patriotic pageant of the sort produced during the Depression by the WPA. Miller’s situation is rescued by a deus ex machina in the portly person of the owner of the White Way Hotel, who loves the play and praises Wagner for having the foresight to rent the theater to Miller.
I have been a devoted admirer of Room Service for many years. I directed it in Canada and produced it at the Kennedy Center with Hal Linden as Miller and Michael Kidd directing. In both productions the audience laughed nonstop for two and a half hours. I’m sure you’d get an argument from partisans of serious drama. Still, one could make a case that Room Service is, if not the great American play, a top contender for the title.