Intrigue, injustice happen in Rover's Two Rooms

By Penny Rathbun, Staff writer
Monday, November 12, 2007 9:18 AM CST

The two rooms are thousands of miles, continents apart. A man in a blindfold and handcuffs is imprisoned in one. His wife, in the other.

This is the setting for Lee Blessing’s play “Two Rooms” currently being performed by Rover Dramawerks at the Cox Building Playhouse.

The play is about, among other things, the forces that pull at Michael and Lainie in the horrific situation in which they find themselves.

Forces literally pull at Michael, played by Matt Gunther. He explains how his guards come in and beat him if he isn’t wearing his blindfold or if it looks as if it’s been retied or he may be beaten for no reason.

Michael was abducted off the street one day from the campus of the American University in Beirut where he was a professor.

He tells the audience that his guards tell him he has been there for three years. Watching him hobble about or try to find a comfortable position creates a feeling of heavy dread, and worse, an unavoidable sense of discomfort.

Gunther’s portrait of a personality under siege is engaging and fascinating. Michael manages to cope by clutching to memories of his wife and their life together. He also somehow preserves fractions of a sense of humor.

The portrayal contains a glimmer of hope for the character. It would be so interesting to encounter Michael at a campus watering hole and discuss philosophy or politics, but right now he’s in prison. He has more important things to worry about than philosophy or politics.

At home, his wife Lainie has emptied his study of furniture. She spends much of her time in the empty room where she says she can feel the presence of her husband.

Joslyn Justus’ portrayal of Lainie is her best Rover Dramawerks role so far. She conveys the transformation of the young wife of a college professor to a woman under a crushing load of pain and anger with a facial expression and a resigned way of folding her arms.

In the same way her scenes with Michael are imbued with sadness and futility. Her reaction when the captors free one of Michael’s prison mates instead of him is chilling.

By this time the discomfort Michael creates for the audience in the beginning is becoming almost palpable.

“Two Rooms” was written in 1988, but it could have been written last year. Governments abducting, imprisoning and torturing people does come right out of today’s headlines. Michael might have a definite opinion on whether or not water boarding is torture. That would be a question to discuss with him at the campus watering hole, if that were possible.

Representing the forces that claim to know better than Lainie or Michael what they should do about their situation are Shane Strawbridge as Walker and Misty Baptiste as Ellen.

Ellen works for the State Department and has been assigned to Lainie, possibly to make sure the wife of the hostage does not talk to the wrong people or say the wrong thing in public.

Ellen is very conflicted. She hasn’t quite figured out yet how to totally subdue her empathy. Baptiste’s Ellen may actually believe all the stuff she says about the government.

The way Baptiste plays the government employee's inability to keep her human side totally hidden somehow makes the character much more sinister than if she played her as a stereotypical villainess.

Her interaction with Michael in a dream sequence gives the audience this question to ponder. From which government does he have the most to fear?

Meanwhile, Lainie is being courted by the media in the person of Walker, played by Shane Strawbridge. He has the boyish look, the attitude and the wardrobe of the young male journalist down perfectly, with an extra sprinkling of social skills. He claims to be Lainie’s friend, but he is after a story. He is also full of advice on what Lainie should do and how she should appear before the TV cameras.

Under Beth Hargrove’s direction, the play takes on a kind of drumbeat of emotions that are never quite resolved.

Lainie's and Michael's plight leave a trail of questions that will follow you home and then to work on Monday.

Rover Dramawerks’ production of Two Rooms is a journey that is worth taking, but come prepared. Leave the box at home and have your cerebrum up and awake.


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