Carol M. Rice
We in America tend to be sheltered from many of the horrible events going on in the world. The Internet has, fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your opinion, brought many of these atrocities to our attention, but in the early 1980s, we were mostly limited to newspapers and broadcast news for our information about world events.
This is why most Americans don’t know much about the Lebanon War, a three-year event which started on June 6, 1982 and “officially” continued for three years. Officially is in quotes because there has been unrest in this area ever since, with only brief respites from fighting. Many of the people who have died were civilians.
Beirut was one of the central locations for the fighting, and it is here that the events of Two Rooms are initiated. The program doesn’t let us know the year, but because such things are still going on in the world, that could have been on purpose, making it more of an “everyman” situation. Michael, a teacher, has been taken hostage and spends his days in an empty room, blindfolded and handcuffed. He is often beat up by his guards for no reason. All of this is because he, as an American civilian, happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
His wife Lainie is doing everything she can to get him released, but because she’s getting nowhere with the State Department and isn’t willing to speak publicly via the press, she takes matters into her own hands in the only way she knows how – by emptying Michael’s office of furniture and attempting to recreate his empty prison cell so she can at least try to feel what he’s going through. This room becomes her safe haven, and the place where she can sense Michael and talk to him.
Two Rooms has been described as both a political play and a love story, and this is certainly true. The relationship between Michael and Lainie is extremely powerful, even before they are able to interact with each other within the play. Plus, the audience knows it’s not real when they do, which makes it even more heartbreaking.
As the imprisoned Michael, Michael McGough is physically right for the part. We as the audience believe from his gaunt appearance and the way he stiffly moves, that he’s being mistreated. The fight scenes choreographed by Jeremy Stein and effectively carried out by Mr. McGough and Daniel Faghi-isa are excellent. Mr. McGough has a tough job to do since he is blindfolded for at least 90% of the show and can’t emote with his eyes. Because of this, he needs to do more with his voice, as his delivery tends to be somewhat static, especially in the beginning.
Meagan Joy Black portrays Lainie with the right amounts of self-determination and self-preservation. She has an extremely expressive and likable face that she uses to the best of her ability Like Mr. McGough; however, her vocal delivery could use some more passion at times.
Both Mr. McGough and Ms. Black are too young for their roles, but both do a fine job overall. Director Stephany Cambra has done a very nice job with a difficult script. However, while the show is very well-done, as a whole it suffers from a lack of intensity. The pace feels a bit slow because there doesn’t seem to be a sense of urgency.
Part of the lack of intensity comes from Angela Davis as Ellen, the representative from the State Department. Ms. Davis is an accomplished actress, but she is far too happy in the role. Because of this, most of the scenes she is in feel too comfortable, and because the role represents all that is wrong with the government and their lack of urgency in trying to get Michael released, this resulted in her scenes feeling somewhat flat.
Jeff Burleson as Walker, an ambitious yet possibly sincere reporter, is the strongest actor in the four-person cast. He plays Walker as both likeable and unlikeable at the same time because from the beginning we knew we probably shouldn’t trust him. He was cajoling, tentative, bold, angry, sweet...whatever he thought Lainie needed to hear from him so he could get his story. The only scene in which he was less than believable was when he was supposed to be drunk on champagne. Then he seemed to be holding back, and when he finally slips and reveals some of his true feelings about the case, it wasn’t as powerful as it could have been.
The only designer given credit in the program is Anne Marie Coleman as sound designer, and the sound was hit and miss. Sometimes we had music to depict the passing of time, but not always. What was there was good, but it just wasn’t consistent.
Kate McCay is listed as the show’s production manager, and I wonder if she is who we can thank for the other design positions. Lights were simple yet very effective – just eight stage lights on trees at the corners of the audience and one shining through a window at appropriate times. There were no blackouts and everything flowed well. Even with such few lights, the simple crossfades helped set the scenes. This is important because there really was no set. The concrete floor and white walls of the basement space at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas were perfect for this show, with the only set pieces being a mat (although a yoga mat was an odd choice) and a stool brought in occasionally for Ellen so she’d have a place to sit.
Costumes were also hit and miss, for in the early 1980s, Ellen most definitely would be wearing pantyhose, and Michael’s prison garb looked like it had merely been rubbed here and there with paint to “age” it. I did like him coming out at the end in a beautifully clean version of what he’d been wearing.
Two Rooms is a show I truly love because of its many complex layers. I have seen several productions of it, and it’s deceptively difficult to do well, but this was one of the best. Despite its flaws, Proper HI jinx’s production is well worth seeing, and I highly recommend it. The fact that this new company chose it for their inaugural production was a brave step, letting us know that they’re serious in their first foray into the DFW theatre scene. They’ve also announced a full season of three shows, also to be done in the Contemporary basement, and their choices are bold and exciting. This is a new company I will definitely keep my eye on.
Proper Hijinx Productions
Basement Space at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas. 5601 Sears Street, Dallas,75206
Runs through August 9
Actual days – Friday and Saturday at 8:00pm. Tickets are $12.00. For info go to https://www.facebook.com/properhijinx. For reservations email firstname.lastname@example.org or call the CTD Box Office at 214.828.0094