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Paulanne Simmons

Two Rooms, Still Powerful After All These Years

Two Rooms
Directed by Jamie Richards
The Lion Theatre at Theatre Row
410 West 42 Street
From Aug. 9, 2012
Mon. & Tues. at 7pm, Wed. - Sat. at 8pm
Tickets: $19. 25 (212) 239-6200
Closing Aug. 25, 2012
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Aug. 23, 2012

In 1988, when Lee Blessing wrote “Two Rooms,” the media was giving a great deal of attention to westerners kidnapped in Lebanon, but we in the United States had not yet felt the full devastating impact of terrorism. Fourteen years later and more than a decade after 9/11, “Two Rooms” is not only relevant, it is almost prophetic.

With its production of “Two Rooms,” Diverse City Theater shows its developing maturity, in the the direction of Jaimie Richards, in the acting of its cast of four, and even in Maruti Evans’ lighting and set design (three sides of a room, with imposing white walls and spaces cut out for a door and window, suspended over the stage).

These walls sometimes function as screens for projections that remind the audience of the outside world and give context to the struggles of the characters. But the main function of the set is to represent the two rooms. One room is the refuge of Lainie Wells (Bree Michael Warner), the other is the cell where her husband, Michael (Curran Connor) is held by unnamed militants. While Michael is held captive by terrorists, Lainie is imprisoned by her own anxiety, love and longing.

In his cell, Michael meditates on life, his relationship with his wife, and time, which takes on a special meaning, or lack of meaning, when one is a blindfolded prisoner who seldom sees the light of day. Mostly he tries to retain his hold on sanity. In her room, Lainie tries to sustain hope, make sense of the tragedy and remain close to her husband. She too struggles to maintain sanity.

But Lainie also has to deal with her two visitors: Walker Harris (Victor Lirio), the reporter and political activists who wants to use her case to enlighten the public on the U.S. government’s hidden agendas and disregard for hostages; and Ellen Van Oss (Dawn Evans), her liaison with the State Department, who counsels caution and faith. Lainie vacillates between the two poles, until she is finally forced into action.

Lirio and Evans are both formidable as representatives of diametrically opposed views. But they make their characters human too. Harris and Van Oss are never symbols, always very real people with doubts and regrets alongside their convictions.

Wells holds the audience’s attentions through long monologues, many of which are highly abstract. In the hands of a lesser actor, these monologues might seem like lectures. But Wells always makes them outpourings of the heart.

However, this production really belongs to Warner, whose anguish is so palpable it hurts to watch her. In her very real discussions and arguments with Walker and Van Oss, or imagined conversations with Michael, she displays all the contradictory emotions of a woman who knows whatever she does may lead to disaster. A native of Cleveland with bicoastal credits, Warner will hopefully spend more time in New York City in the future.

“Two Rooms” is a powerful political play. But when it is done really well, as in this production, it transcends political reality into existential reality. Viewed in this light, “Two Rooms” tells us as much about the machinations of governments and terrorists as it does about the human capacity for love, violence, dedication, resilience and folly.

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