Is the ‘white room’ a real phenomenon for theater actors?

In the latest episode of OMITB, Charles blacks out and finds himself in a white room while unconsciously singing profanities.  

The internet was buzzing with one question after episode 4 of Only Murders in the Building aired: Is the “white room” phenomenon—disorientation, amnesia over what happens when an actor forgets his lines—a real thing in theater?  

In the episode, Charles (Steve Martin) reluctantly sings/raps/recites the song in rehearsal. He loses control of the lyrics and begins spewing out profanities. In his head, he enters an empty white room which he starts painting.

white room
Charles (Steve Martin) blacks out and finds himself in the white room.

When he regains consciousness, he’s minus his trousers and sitting in one of the triplets’ bassinettes in Death Rattle the Musical.

Douglas, one of the actors in Oliver’s (Martin Short) musical, explains, “The white room is a stage thing. In TV, if you screw up, you get another take. In theater, there’s no net. You blank out, that’s it. You’re a polar bear in a global warming documentary, hanging on to a tiny piece of ice in the middle of the sea, waiting to die.”

Only Murders in the Building
Charles emerges from the white room sans trousers. Photos courtesy of Hulu. OMITB is streaming on Disney+.

It’s a fascinating psychological concept, but is it real?

Internet sleuths have unearthed a 2013 interview on Playbill, actor Seth Rudetsky says he experienced the white room during a performance earlier in his theater career. “We started the first scene and when I got to my seventh line I completely went blank. That’s what’s called entering the white room; meaning there is nothing but whiteness around you. Nothing to grab onto.” 

For Charles, it wasn’t just forgetting his lines, but replacing them with profanities, enough to make one cast member call his shrink (but he didn’t really).

Cinda Canning is back

Only Murders in the Building Cina Canning
Star podcaster Cinda Canning (Tina Fey) is back.

The episode starts with a returning character doing voiceover—who else but the ruthless Cinda Canning (Tina Fey). With Mabel’s (Selena Gomez) moving out of the Arconia looming closer and closer, she finds herself with a new mission—finding an apartment in New York City—perhaps an even harder undertaking than solving Ben Glenroy’s (Paul Rudd) murder.

A year after being “canceled,” Cinda looks freshly rebranded—imagine Gwyneth Paltrow going on an Eat, Pray, Love kind of journey and coming back spouting dharma, breathing soy candles, and incubating jade vagina eggs (whatever those are) in between her thighs.

Charles’ girlfriend Joy (Andrea Martin) is moving in with him in his apartment—bringing with her a trampoline and 62 fish in an aquarium. Oliver, meanwhile, professes his love for Loretta (Meryl Streep—who was widely praised for her singing in episode 3).

Only Murders in the Building Selena Gomez
Mabel (Selena Gomez) has to find a new apartment in New York.

With the two guys lovestruck, solving the murder mystery falls mostly on Mabel (Selena Gomez), who suggests that they snoop around the theater and find more clues on their current primary suspect, Kimber (Ashley Park). Quite hilariously, Oliver isn’t too warm on the idea of naming Kimber a suspect because: 1) She’s one of the few Death Rattle actors who can actually sing; and 2) Her rather sizable following on TikTok can be good publicity for the production.

Charles heads back to his apartment, rattled by his unsettling episode during rehearsal. Seeing him all frazzled, Joy suggests his “happy place” is him making an omelet, which he tries doing, et voila! For the first time ever, he finishes the song flawlessly. Despite this, Joy warns Charles that the omelet technique might just be a “crutch,” assuring him that she is now his happy place.

“I’m gonna look out for you Charlie, just like I did with Ben Glenroy. He knew if he touched one hair on your gorgeous little head, he was gonna have to deal with me,” she says.

Only Murders in the Building Bel Glenroy
An ominous warning in Bel Glenroy’s dressing room.

A red lipstick and a 62-fish aquarium

Oliver and Mabel get into the theater, makes a beeline to Kimber’s dressing room only to find Kimber there herself.  She admits that she secretly made a copy of Howard’s key and uses the theater as her beauty biz’s headquarters. Charles suddenly arrives, the trio decides to split up, with the two guys breaking into Ben’s dressing room.

Kimber says she just wanted Ben to endorse her beauty serum. And the hanky? She sold it on eBay after Ben broke his promise to help her promote her products. Just as Mabel is trying to process all this, Kimber blurts out a crucial bit of information: On opening night, Ben was freaking out about a red mark on his face and asked someone to mask it. Kimber has no idea who it was, but whoever that person is was able to get rid of the red mark. What was the red mark and who helped Ben get rid of it?

In Ben’s dressing room, meanwhile, Charles and Oliver discover the words “Fucking Pig” scrawled in red lipstick on the mirror. This, of course, begs the question: Whodunit? Mabel takes the red lipstick, wraps it in tissue, and puts it into the pocket of her coat. She then gets another message from the same unknown number. Lo and behold—it’s Cinda Canning asking to meet her.

Only Murders in the Building Scene
Cohabitation stress.

Apparently, Cinda wants to do what she loves doing best again—a murder podcast—and she wants Mabel to team up with her, what with her sleuthing buddies too distracted by the play. Cinda writes her a check, upping her offer by adding zeros three times, only to back down on the third.

Mabel, in a true act of loyalty and friendship, turns Cinda’s offer down (after hesitating a bit on the third zero).

Back at rehearsals, Charles gives the “patter song” another go, only to find himself transported into the white room again. Oliver pulls Charles aside, suggesting it might just be his nerves adjusting to Joy’s moving into his place.

Once he returns to his apartment, Charles tries to talk to Joy about their cohabiting which sends him panicking—and yes, back in the white room. Once Charles comes to, he’s down on one knee in front of a joyous Joy who just accepted his marriage proposal.

Mabel and Oliver walk in on Charles’ OMFG moment as if on cue. Then recognizing the object on Mabel’s hand, Joy exclaims, “You found my lipstick!”

Only Murders in the Building Season 2 is streaming on Disney+.

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