What Lies in ‘Two Rooms’

Santafe.com - October 6, 2011

"If you’re a fan of edgy, emotional commentary, go without hesitation"

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower”
-Albert Camus-

Fall brings a new beauty to the fading emeralds of summer. A glowing ember casting its light on old leaves. Cardinal shades conjuring new perspective to something we’ve seen everyday. In the way that autumn casts new light on old surroundings, the autumn theater season brings a fresh outlook to the fading impact of recent events. This fall treats Santa Feans to a stage production of Thirtybrush's take on Lee Blessing's unsung classic, "Two Rooms" -- a riveting story about politics, media and love.

"Two Rooms" tells the tale of terrorist captive Michael (played by Matt Sanford), as he is held hostage in an unknown location and isolated in a lone room. In the parallel perspective is Michaels wife Liane (played by Erin O'Shaughnessy), self isolated in her husband's old office, as she fights desperately to get Michael home. The story and pacing are elegantly told across the show's three-year time span. Its pacing and subtlety superbly create a visceral connection to both the tragedy of Michael’s imprisonment and the people whom are most affected by it.

"Two Rooms" greatest assets comes in its minimalism. In addition to its scant cast of four performers, the show boasts neither set nor props. Its costumes are simple and its lighting design casts a disparity and decay that serve the piece well. This minimalist approach serves to immerse the audience in a ubiquitous time period and setting. Though written in relation to the Beirut hostage crises of the early 1980s, it always feels topical and relevant to recent events. Showing the problems of terrorism, captivity, and U.S. policy towards hostage negotiation are still salient 30 years later.

The play deftly portrays tragedy from the human side of the issue, often only seen through talking head media. It uses the perspective of those most affected by these tragedies to convey a blunt and brutal honesty. The sheer candor of the play shakes loose the disconnection to true misfortune, which has been so fostered by the fourth estate. At the play's start each character seems to fit into fairly archetypal roles. Michael is the helpless prisoner, isolated by virtue of his captivity. His wife Liane is a prisoner of her own helplessness and captive to her self imposed isolation. The reporter Walker (played by Matthew Puett) is the media. Exploitative and detached but fighting for “the integrity of real journalism.” The State Department Representative Ellen (played by Tove Shere) is locked in the limitations and routine of the middle-class American lifestyle, representing the mired nature of our nation's foreign relation policies. The show's real strength comes in its ability to transform these characters from the embodiment of tragic history into genuine people living a tragic reality. A harsh reminder that every story brushed off as a sad tale on CNN is affecting real people irrevocably every day.

The part of Michael is especially well handled. Almost entirely portrayed in monologues to himself, he still conveys an engrossing character that evolves as his sanity decays. At his darkest moments, he is saved by the seemingly innocuous moments of his life -- the smell of his office, the sound of his wife, any small moment to ground him in the mundanities of his old world. A bystander removed from his reality, Michael’s decline makes one ask what memories save us on the brink of madness. It is a character written and played across countless works and is rarely handled with such subtly or effectiveness.

At its best, the play dares to ask us, are we all prisoners of something in our lives? The characters of "Two Rooms" all seem to be trapped by something. From the physical boundaries of Michael’s prison to the habitual routines of Ellen’s complacent life, the show prompts a chilling question: Are the prisons of our live’s built by our choices and, if so, what consequences are wrought from them.

Thirstybrush has chosen a challenging play for its first production. It’s a complicated, layered, and sophisticated show that requires a soft touch and a strong direction. I, for one, commend them for bringing a bold, intelligent and poignant piece to our town. While I have my own reservations about the production, I set them aside on the simple point that, while not perfect, it still offers some of the best theater seen on stage this year.

If you’re a fan of edgy, emotional commentary, go without hesitation. If you find fascination in the delving of the human soul, the madness of man and the strength found in the deepest parts of love, then reserve a ticket now. If you’re looking for a laugh and to walk away with a smile...then probably sit this one out. Most importantly, if you’re a fan of art on the stage, I urge you not to miss out on one of the truly great and overlooked pieces of American theatre.

"Two Rooms" runs for two weeks in October: the 7th, 8th, 9th and the 14th, 15th, and 16th
7:00 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:00 p.m. Sunday matinees

Warehouse 21 Black Box Theatre.

Tickets are $15,

Call 672-8799 for reservations