NEW YORK — A new drama that opened on Broadway Monday gives new meaning to the phrase "ripped from the headlines."
"Is This a Room" tells the true story of a former Air Force linguist convicted of espionage for leaking evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections.
The catch is that the entire play is a word for word depiction of the actual FBI interrogation that led to the arrest.
"'Is This a Room' is a mercurial conversation about what it means to be a woman, what it means to be an American, what it means to be a veteran in this country," says the show's star Emily Davis.
"'Is This a Room' is the staging of an FBI transcript of the day a 25-year-old woman named Reality Winner was surprised at her home by the FBI in Augusta, Georgia," says "Is This a Room" director Tina Satter. "The event we put on stage happened on June 3rd, 2017. So I remember knowing somehow that summer, like I vaguely, vaguely heard of Reality Winner but I couldn't have really told you who she was or what she had done. But six months later I read this longer story about her that had pictures and I was like, ‘Wait a second.’ I was looking at this young blonde woman in a Pikachu hoodie and then a blonde woman in a military uniform with guns with her baby face but these amazing eyes and I was like, ‘Wait, this is Reality Winner?’ And then in that same time I clicked on a link that had the transcript and as soon as I was starting to read that - because it looked like a play to me on the page - I was like, ‘Oh my God, the way they're doing language, and it's like this thriller.’ Like, you know, I'm reading that knowing of course that Reality is in prison at that moment in time, but I'm like, ‘When did they get her? This is fascinating!’
"I have been in touch with Reality," says Davis of her real life counterpart. "We used to write to each other at the beginning. I emailed her not thinking that I would hear back, and when I did email her she immediately wrote me back a really long, insane letter. And I just remember getting that letter and I was walking through Greenpoint and I had to just call Tina. And it was like this huge pit in me because it was this real, it was this person from this like experimental play that we had been shaping and there she was, like bright as the sun and really as funny as I thought she would be. But recently I did meet her on a Zoom call and we have sort of stayed in touch and in text. It's sporadic. But I also feel like I'm kind of always in touch with her in this space because of the nature of like what we're, how I'm spending my days.
"Is This a Room" started off, off-Broadway at The Kitchen, and then had a celebrated run off-Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre before the COVID pandemic. But the creators of the show tell me never in their wildest dreams did they ever think it would make it to Broadway.
"I mean, you know, we made the work, it was commissioned by The Kitchen, this incredible artistic space in Chelsea that sort of has this historical avant-garde history with David Byrne and Debbie Harry and stuff, and so we were making this thrilled to have a commission," says Satter. "We'd made some pieces there, I came upon this content and was like it's an experiment and the work downtown is very experimental, right? So, no, it just wasn't even on the dream mood board. It really is an out of nowhere sort of thing."
"I guess it feels it's like our team just exponentially grew once we got here," adds Davis. "And this particular moment, everyone is pretty overjoyed I think to be back to work so it's just sort of, I don't feel like I'm getting the typical Broadway. Like, it feels like it's even more layered than that with how magical it feels."