If you do nothing else for your mind and soul this spring, invest in a ticket to this play. This play, running Thursday through Sunday until April 17, is a brilliant example of what theatre is all about.
In the course of the play, there is a constant presentation of dualities. The primary thread contrasts and compares the imprisonment of a man taken hostage by Muslim extremists in Beirut with the psychological hostage situation of his wife in her Washington, D.C. home. In what was their home, she is hemmed in by government officials, the press and her own sense of loss and need to connect in any way possible with her husband. The set, always a strong factor in Atlantic Stage’s presentations, boosts imagination and reinforces the message of the play by re-creating the two prisons, side by side in the middle of the theatre space. As such, we “see” the actions in America and Lebanon side by side.
Furthermore, the action is in the center, as is our daily conversation on the hot topic of extremism in society is ever present at the center of things.
Blessing’s words dissect the role of the media and the government and issues on a grand scale while at the same time providing us with the deeply emotional personal story of the couple, separated by time and distance, but united by their love and their own definitions of hope. It is the perfect balance of a story of personal tragedy played out on the large scene of international politics. Some of the more chilling lines note that extremists hate America and Americans because we had the good fortune to be born here while at the same time envying the apparent ease and abundance of our way of life.
The Atlantic Stage website describes the play as “illuminating both the numbing agony of the one detained and also the helpless fury of those who are left behind—loved ones impatient for something to be done, and officials who feel they must be guided by logic rather than emotion.”
Heady goals for a play to attempt to reach. Director Benjamin Sota and an extremely capable cast of four, reach and surpass all goals. The play itself and the performances and stagecraft which bring it to life are absolutely amazing.
Thom Penn as the captured Michael Wells and Mindi Penn as his wife, Lainie Wells sear the heart with their nuanced, intense, incredible performances. The Penns are founding company members of Atlantic Stage. Penn is an Equity member. Both are veterans of stage acting and directing here and elsewhere. Each deserves an entire thesaurus of superlatives for their work in Two Rooms.
Yes, the lines were great, but their delivery of each line, each look, each gesture highlighted the poignancy and potency of the writer’s skill. For the most part the play called for emotions to be held-in, understated, yet seething. This gave extra power to the intimate explosions we witnessed on both sides.
Michael’s prison where he “writes” to his wife by talking aloud is in constant emotional contact with and Lainie’s self-created “prison,” a room in her home where she has created a minimalist space, in order to feel close to her missing spouse.
The supporting cast also deserves kudos. Erin Dooley as Ellen Van Oss, the State Department official assigned to Wells’ “case” performed with just the right touch of supercilious official “interest.” Her tone implied, and her performance delivered the impression of a masked inner struggle between Ellen’s need to distance herself from the emotion of hostage taking with her job of defending “government” interests, even above the personal needs of hostages and their families.
Noah Pelty, a Coastal Carolina University freshman, was also brilliant as Walker Harris, the reporter who desperately wants to convince Lainie Wells to defy the government and bring her story public, both to help her cause and to advance his own career. His back and forth over the sometimes conflicting goals of these two interests offers a human side to the dilemma of a principled journalist in the modern world and the role of journalism in shaping as well as reporting a story.
No matter where your mind rests on the political spectrum, Two Rooms will make you think. It’s a masterful example of theatre art.
Two Rooms, a play by Lee Blessing, Produced by Atlantic Stage
Tickets range in price from $12.50-$27.50 per seat. The show opened on March 24 will run until April 17 with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays through Saturdays and at 3 p.m. on Sunday afternoons in the Myrtle Beach Mall on U.S. 17 just north of S.C 22. On the first and second Sunday of the run, there is a “talk-back” with the actors after the show, open to all audience members. You can obtain tickets online at http://www.atlanticstage.com or by calling 1 877 ATS TKTS.