With so many events going on this weekend, it may be difficult to choose how to spend your time. It may even be tempting to simply pick the one closest to your home base and call it a night. But don’t let mere proximity make your choices for you; the Yale Cabaret’s production of “Two Rooms” is well worth the trip.
The one-hour play, written by Lee Blessing and directed by Susanna Gellert, follows the individual perspectives of married couple Michael (Kevin Rich) and Lainie Wells (Christianna Nelson). Michael has been taken hostage by a group of Arab terrorists while teaching at a university in Beirut. Lainie, living at home in the U.S., must cope with her husband’s disappearance and sort through conflicting advice given to her by enthusiastic reporter Walker Harris (Adam O’Byrne) and the didactic State Department worker (Anna Jones) assigned to her husband’s case.
The dialogue is both thought-provoking and eerily relevant at a time when America’s continued presence in the Middle East may lead to just such a dilemma. What makes the play even more disturbing, however, is the characters’ ability to present the most contradictory evidence as cogent and justifiable. Walker and Ellen are in constant disagreement. While Walker wishes for Lainie to use the media to appeal to the terrorist group, Ellen remains adamant that one man’s freedom is not worth the country’s credibility. To the credit of both the playwright and the actors, the presentation of their respective arguments is so compelling that the viewer feels torn, as does Lainie, between the desire to see Michael come home alive and to insure the terrorists’ fall from power.
Kevin Rich puts in a particularly sterling performance as Michael, drawing the audience into the psyche of a man who is both confused and intrigued by the political and emotional motivations of his captors. His seamless transitions between playing a reflective, subdued prisoner and a lonely, loving husband inject the play with a cold reality that settles into the viewer’s own conscience and leaves him wondering whether or not he might be playing a supporting role in one of Michael’s daily reveries.
Anna Jones’ portrayal of U.S. State Department worker Ellen Van Ossen is also noteworthy, though perhaps less consistent. It is not so much her performance but her British accent that at times detracts from the believability of her character. The melodic fluidity of Jones’ voice is, at first, enough to make up for the initial confusion upon hearing a decidedly British accent come from the mouth of a character whose job is working with highly classified U.S. government information. Ironically, the formality associated with her accent at times enhances her portrayal of a strong-willed government agent. This happy coincidence, however, is only temporary. While delivering the final monologue of the play, Ellen refers to the inevitability of “us Americans” having to pay for our country’s policies. Unfortunately, this technical slip is enough to catch the viewer’s attention and, consequently, detract from the poignancy of the final scene.
The only other oddity in the production concerns the actors’ blocking, or respective positions on the stage. In one scene, director Gellert faces her actors away from the audience completely. In some instances, unusual blocking can have a favorable effect on a play’s message, attracting the viewers’ attention and flagging specific scenes as noteworthy or particularly profound. “Two Rooms,” however, possesses an intrinsically philosophical and weighty script, rendering the unconventional blocking both unnecessary and decidedly distracting. This problem is exacerbated by the nature of the Yale Cabaret’s space, which features a three-sided dining audience.
But it must be said that Jones’ accent and the quirky blocking are extremely minor flaws. With such powerfully scripted dialogue and an equally talented set of actors delivering it, the production is bursting with stimulating performances and enough food for thought to last you through midterms.
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