Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Two Rooms"

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note: entire contents copyright 2007 by Larry Stark

"Two Rooms"

by Lee Blessing
Directed by Darren Evans

Scenic Design by Prav Menon-Johansson
Lighting Design by Eric Jacobsen
Sound Design by Darren Evans
Costume Design by Wendy Nystrom
Box Office Manager Brooke DiGiovanni Evans
Produced by Darren Evans
Assistant Stage Manager Carl Danielson
Stage Manager Mitchell Sellers, Jessica McCarthy

Michael Wells........Jason Beals
Lainie Wells.......Kate Donnelly
Ellen Van Oss......Michelle Dowd
Walker Harris.........Craig Houk

There is still a week-end left in the run of this unremittingly brilliant production. Call now, because the audience is necessarily small. But the emotions aren't.

At the center of this sharply-focused story, like the calm eye of a whirling hurricane, or the still point of the turning world, sits a stubborn, silent woman unmoving on a rug. In two floor-to-ceiling rows wide strips of canvas-colored cloth create a bare room in which she can sit on a single rug in half-lotus, often staring forlornely into space. She is trying to keep in communion with her husband --- a teacher taken hostage somewhere in the Middle-East (Does it really matter where?) and already held incommunicado so long the rest of the world has forgotten he even exists. But she has not. She is, inexplicably, in touch with him.

She knows him --- feels him? --- his eyes blindfolded, his hands shackled, moved irrelevently from bare cell to cell, composing in his silent isolation letters he may one day get to write to her, send to her, but doing so with little hope. She is the only person left with any hope, difficult though this is to do. She has tossed all her furniture out of the room, painted the walls a dirty, sandy wash, in order to live the life he lives. She keeps him alive, by her side, lying on a rug on her bare floor. She says little, but will not give in.

She is visited. People try to help.

There is an equally stubborn State Departmeny lady, equally aware there is nothing governments can do, realistically hiding her compassion, asking herself for understanding of her helplessness. She is aware of the woman's edmotions, her predicament, yet aware at the same time that a stubborn refusal to seek government help is a persistent, niggling embarrassement when nothing more is done.

There is a journalist, looking for a scoop, trying to comprehend, convinced that the government needs not less embarrassement but more. "Go public!" he cries, and really means "Get me my Pulitzer when we get him back home!" He is careful, understanding, maybe even sincerely concerned. But so is the State Department.

And only one of these three, living it, really feels the depth of all this pain.

Lee Blessing's play is slowly, carefully constructed. After an almost suffocatingly poigniant first act and a much-appreciated intermission, the tension breaks, the wife grants an interview and tries, though on her terms, to cooperate. The friendly friends coax her into action, do what they can, and wait for results.

But, at the end of this compelling play, husband and wife remain united in only one way --- inside her stubbornly uncompromising mind.

Director Darren Evans has provided a slow, insistent score of subtle sound and Eric Jacobsen's lights return again and again to hermetic isolation. The stage-managers Mitchell Sellers, Carl Danielson and Jessica McCarthy bring a chair or end-table a time or two in through the hanging walls. Once started, the play is implacable.

It is true that Americans were held captive in Iran, that hostages have been snatched and held and, yes, killed. A BBC news reporter is still held, somewhere in the Middle East, and in Iraq three American soldiers are, somewhere, held hostage by ... someone else. And Lee Blessing's play is already 25 years old, and as achingly alive as today's headlines. In this play, the headlines have human faces.

They are, of course, the faces of actors --- a fact a little hard to remember while their passion takes place before your eyes. The great thing here, though, is that the cast and their director realize that for all its human surfaces, it's in its profound silences that the play really takes place.

Slowly shuffling, blindfolded and shackled, Jason Beals is the soul of resignation, softly sifting over his unsendable letters. Michelle Dowd's frown speaks of her attempts to clamp down on both her resentment at contempt and lack of cooperation, and on her impulse toward sympathy. Craig Houk tries to understand, to see under the skin, and to demand help in reaching for resolution. He has anthracite eyes and a hungry face.

And at the center, vibrantly silent, sits Kate Donnelly. Her slightest movement has meaning. When her attention snaps to someone it's like a crack of lightning, and an occasional sudden smile is dawn after storms.

And in all cases, it's what is not said, what for each of them becomes unsayable, that cries out from these two rooms --- from the still, hopeless vacuum at the heart of this raging storm.

Go. See for yourselves!

( a k a larry stark)

"Two Rooms" (4 - 19 May)
Charlestown Working Theatre, 442 Bunker Hill Street, CHARLESTOWN MA
1 (617)642.9439

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide