nytheatre.com review by Daniel Kelley
May 10, 2008
Roust Theatre company's current production of Lee Blessing's Two Rooms is a wonder of simplicity. It radiates an earnest humanity that puts an empathic face on complex political issues. It is not just good theatre; it's commendable work.
Two Rooms, written in 1988, is the story of a couple, Michael and Lanie Wells. Michael is an educator in Beirut, who is kidnapped and held prisoner by terrorists. Meanwhile, back in America, Lanie clears out Michael's old office and repaints the walls so that she can live as she imagines he's living in captivity. Michael's cell and Lanie's self-created prison are the two rooms of the title. By using their imaginations to communicate through these rooms, they try to figure out what their lives are now, how to live them, and how they got there in the first place.
Throughout the play, Lanie pursues Ellen, a State Department employee, to bring her information about her husband, and most importantly, to bring him home. Lanie is pursued in turn by Walker, a newspaper reporter hungry for the story of this bereaved widow and the ineptitude of the government in trying to bring her husband back. Conflict arises when Lanie agrees to talk to the press—an act that greatly angers Ellen and the State Department.
Director James Phillip Gates works well with his design team and cast to create both the intimate and tender dream world of the two rooms, and the stark reality of the world these characters are faced with. The cast is uniformly strong. Garrett Lee Hendrick is effective as Walker and Tori Davis is appropriately tough as nails as Ellen. As Michael, Joe Osheroff has an honesty from start to finish that makes his character's journey riveting. As Lanie, Tracy Hostmyer is particularly compelling, both as the tender and loving wife living in her imagination and as the fragile and guarded woman living in the real world on the edge of collapse. The last moment of the play between Osheroff and Hostmyer is completely heartbreaking.
In an interview with the New York Times in 2004, Blessing talked about his play:
Two Rooms was written in the late '80s about an American being kidnapped in Beirut, but right after 9/11 it was done in five productions in four cities. And every one of them asked me if I would rewrite, and I said sure. And a week into rehearsals they said, "Actually you don't need to rewrite it because the problem is chronic."
The speeches in Two Rooms about Islamic fundamentalists, the frustrating bureaucracy of the American government, and the self-importance of the media all still ring as true today as they did four years ago when he said this, and as they did 20 years ago when he wrote them. The recent escalation in violence in Lebanon should be evidence enough of the relevance of doing and (perhaps more importantly) going to see Two Rooms.