Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Theater Review: Two Rooms

By Mark-Brian Sonna of MBS Productions

Two Rooms The play Two Rooms by Lee Blessing currently playing at Rover Dramawerks is very timely. The story chronicles the lives of four people: an American hostage, who in order to pass the lengthy hours of boredom in an empty room recites letters that he wishes he could write to his wife; his wife who in an act of frustration and protest empties out her husband's office and turns it into an empty room in which she can meditate on her husband's fate; a young reporter that seizes on the opportunity of a news story, and a delegate from the US Government whose main interest is to prevent the wife from turning the situation into a media event. The play was written in the 1980’s and deals with a hostage being held in Beirut. Even though the play is two decades old, it is absolutely a testament to what is currently happening with our country's fight against terrorism.

What makes this play so brilliant is that these four people all have their own flaws, motivations, demons, yet they are all striving to achieve a resolution of what becomes an ever increasing impossible situation. The play moves from hope, to frustration, to despair. The Rover Dramawerks' production, like all their productions, is solid, but perhaps in dealing with such a tinder box of a subject matter and its political and social implications, it is a bit too clinical.

Joslyn Justus who plays the wife, who I've seen in other productions and I enjoy very much as a performer, is a very talented actor, but I felt that she perhaps was too reserved in her role; I must add that I was informed that she was ill that night, so her reserve perhaps was due to her being under the weather. Curiously enough, the same cool reserve was also displayed in Matt Gunther’s portrayal of her husband. Mr. Gunther hasn’t acted on stage recently, and while I wished he would have given more emotionally vocal and tonal variation to his line delivery, he is able to deliver lengthy soliloquies and monologues while being blindfolded and handcuffed without once boring the audience, which is a feat unto itself. Both actors are exceedingly talented, and are able to keep the audience’s interest through some difficult and wordy dialogue, and their cool reserve works for most of the show. But as the play barrels to the inevitable tragic climax, their despair needed to become more palpable. Misty Baptiste and Shane Strawbridge round out the cast and are the other two brilliant actors working in this production. Ms. Baptiste as the US government agent and Mr. Strawbridge as the Reporter have to maintain their poker faces, yet they were able to still give their characters a palpable sense of unease as the events careen out of control. There is no weak actor in this play. The weaknesses come from choices that perhaps were made by the director Beth Hargrove that prevented what could have been a transcendental evening of theatre.

Because the play takes place on an empty stage, every movement, emotion, and physical element is magnified. One becomes aware of the tempo of the scenes. The evening played out at a steady pace and it felt very controlled. Just as Ms. Justus played her role with such even coolness and her husband delivered every monologue with the same pace of delivery, each scene was staged with a similar pace which prevented the play from building to its inevitable climax. The emotional and staging intensity of the climax of the play was no different then that of the opening of the play. The play acquired a repetitive quality that became detrimental. Even the lighting, though wonderfully realized throughout most of the play was repetitive. A great opportunity was missed at the climax: the lights just focused and then went to black, but a harsh color change would have created an even more dramatic impact. The same could be said about the costuming. Earth and cool tones were appropriate but an introduction of hot colors as emotions began to well up would have created a visual interest that was needed.

I know this review has focused on the negatives so far, and I do not wish to discourage people from seeing this show. In defense of the director and the production team, by not hitting the audience as hard emotionally, and by keeping this cool calculated pace, we, as an audience, really do focus on the dialogue and the fascinating arguments presented and explored. There is no doubt that this play gives fodder for ample discussion afterward as my theatre companion and I did over dinner after the show. Even though there are a few weaknesses the bottom line is this: Two Rooms is very strong, and worth seeing and well worth the price of admission.