@ The Black Box Theatre, 430 N. Main St.
 

Two Rooms

By Lee Blessing, directed by KC Cherkasky

  • L to R: Rachel Space (Lainie), Rebecca Dettmer (Ellen) and Mike Dick (Walker)
  • L to R: Rachel Space (Lainie), Rebecca Dettmer (Ellen)
  • L to R: Patrick Payne (Michael) and Rachel Space (Lainie)

Feb 04-Feb 20, 2005

FRI FEB 4,11,18 | 8:00 PM
SAT FEB 5,12,19 | 8:00 PM
SUN FEB 6,13,20 | 2:30 PM
THUR FEB 17 | 7:00 PM

Description

Credits

Ellen Van Oss
Lainie Wells
Michael Wells
Walker Harris
Assistant Stage Manager
Costume Design
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Director
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Light Board Operator
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Written By

Reviews

Current events invade 'Two Rooms'
- By Patricia L. Garcia, SunLife

There are some moments in plays that just gets you. You know, you start to feel a tear or two swell up in your eye.

In "Two Rooms," that moment comes when Michael (Patrick Payne) describes to his wife, Lainie (Rachel Space), what their future children will look like. "I haven't decided on the nose yet," he says as he and Lainie sit together. Only, they're not really sitting together. In fact, he's worlds away, a blindfolded American hostage who unintentionally has become a pawn in a political game. Meanwhile, Lainie is at her home, waiting for years to hear word of her husband's status from the government.

Throughout the play, audiences learn how Michael ended up a hostage and his eventual fate as those at home - Lainie, the government and even a journalist, Walker (Michael Dick) - struggle to bring him home.

As the play progresses, it is obvious the playwright has a skeptical view of the government and of the media as represented by Ellen (Rebecca Dettmer) and Walker.

Ellen is a cold, uptight State Department employee whose job it is to bring uninformative, unhelpful news to Lainie every week about her husband's condition all while telling Lainie to keep her chin up.

Walker is a journalist out to get the big story, hoping to make Big Brother accountable for its foreign policies. Somehow, though, he ends up becoming a part of Lainie's awkward support system.

But "Two Rooms" is more than a critical look at a political issue. Michael and Lainie are more than characters in a story. They are the everyday American who face unspeakable hardships. But through those things they become very aware of the harsh world that surrounds them.

Michael, through his hardship, becomes introspective, thinking about why he is in the situation he is in. Lainie breaks under the stress and withdraws and retreats into the one room that she can "feel" Michael in.

The two rooms referenced in the title are things that keep the couple together even though they are what separate them.

The play is preceded by Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule The World" while photos of people at play and in crisis are shown in the background; Crowded Houses' "Don't Dream It's Over" ends the show - setting the mood for a sometimes-heartbreaking performance.

With the events that have surround U.S. foreign policy, the play doesn't shock anymore than the nightly news does. But it does bring a very human aspect to political agendas and foreign ideology that is rarely found in hostage situations.

"Two Rooms" offers us a chance to take hostage situations - and the United States' current situation - out of our television sets and newspapers and brings it into our minds and hearts.

'Two Rooms" explores love, power
- by Jeff Barnet, The Las Cruces Bulletin [ February 4, 2005 ]

Two Rooms," the current production of the Black Box Theatre on the Downtown Mall, examines the 1980s hostage crisis in Beirut, Lebanon as it affects a married couple. The husband is held hostage by a Shi'ite faction for three years while his wife contends with both the government and the media at home.

The play, written by Lee Blessing in 1988, has political overtones that resonate even today. One cannot help but think of the agony of the men and women who have been kidnapped in Iraq. Many theater companies throughout the United States have overtly made those connections to the current political situation in recent productions of the play.

To her credit, director KC Cherkasky chose not to go that route. Through various means, including an opening slide show that places the play in the mid-1980s, Reagan-era setting, she grounds the play entirely in its original context. This choice places the focus of the production where it belongs: on the relationships between the characters. The play is ultimately not about politics, but about devotion. It theater review is love story about two people who must contend with the world and every last corrosive, corrupt, absurd offense thrown at them by people who put politics first and their humanity a distant second.

"One has to know what the world can do to a man, any man," says Michael, an American teacher taken hostage by AK-47-wiel ding gunmen in a Beirut street. The role of helpless, blindfolded victim is difficult to play, but actor Patrick Payne manages to plumb the depths of his character from rage and despair to tenderness and wonder.

Rachel Space, Payne's wife both on stage and in real life, is the emotional center of the play, at turns sweet and loving, confused and vulnerable, frustrated and enraged. As Lainie, Space transitions from one conflicting emotion to the next in a manner both genuine and subtle: every moment she is on stage her character is believable and compelling.

Lainie is torn between trying to decide whether to obey the strict edicts of buttoned-down State Department official Ellen Van Oss, played by Rebecca Dettmer, or the anti-administration guerilla tactics of journalist Walker Harris, played by Mike Dick. As Lainie struggles to fashion a public response to the murky events in Beirut, she finds she cannot completely trust either the government or the media. Dettmer is superb in her role as a low-level Reagan administration bureaucrat. She delivers that adiministration's policy of refusing to negotiate with terrorists with an icy professionalism. She is certain the policy is correct, and she believes Lainie's silence is necessary to help her husband and dozens of other hostages trapped in Bierut.
The journalist, Walker, is just as certain in his bias against Reagan's policies, and believes if Lainie goes public with her distress, she can push the government to take a different tack.

As written, the role of Walker is an odd one. He is much more idealistic and pushy than the typical reporter. One would have hoped for a seasoned vet who is more sly, more steeped in ambiguities. The fact that Lainie seems to trust the jerky news reporter with an agenda instead of the robotic-but-honest government official seems naive, especially considering that action she takes at the journalist's advice ends in tragedy. Dettmer's Ellen is not without feelings.

The question that the play asks repeatedly is, "What is power?" Everyone in the play, on-stage and off-stage, is seeking power in some form. As Ellen notes in an almost surreal speech, those who think they have power are often the most powerless of all.

At its existential core, "Two Rooms" suggests that the most enduring power is not political at all. Rather, the power of devotion between two people transcends any other kind of power. Payne and Space, in their stage roles of husband and wife, prove this in a variety of scenes. Apart in identical rooms halfway around the world-she has made a room in her suburban D.C. house to match her husband's room of captivity in Beirut - Space and Payne recite letters they have written to each other. The monologues are an eloquent mix of the mundane and the poetic. They also appear in each other's imaginations in scenes of genuine tenderness.

People with differing political views can unite on one thing: "Two Rooms" brings the truth of terror, separation and death, of the power of the individual versus that of the state and the media, home in the story of two ordinary people. As powerless as they might be in the face of world politics, they bravely face their predicament with grace and dignity.

Two Rooms of Heartbreak
- By Maggie Adkins, NMSU Roundup

It is rare for art to maintain a political urgency spanning decades.

Unfortunately, "Two Rooms," a play by Lee Blessing, produced by the No Strings Theatre Company, has as much, if not more, relevance to Americans today than it did when it was written in the 1980s.

The play follows the story of a couple, Lainie and Michael Wells, who live and teach in Beirut, Lebanon. As the city dissolves into anarchy, Michael is taken hostage and Lainie returns to the United States to fight for his release.

"Two Rooms" refers to the cell that Michael, played by Patrick Payne, inhabits. The second room belongs to Lainie, played by Rachel Space, who after seeing photos released by Michael's captors, tries to recreate his cell in their home.

Director KC Cherkasky chose to open the play with a montage of scenes from the 1980s, the good and the bad - from the Challenger disaster to leg warmers to the Brat Pack - cementing the viewer into that time period.

Cherkasky said although "what was going on 20 to 25 years ago is so applicable to what is going on today, I wanted to bring [the audience] back in time before the first scene.

"My feeling was people would make the connection with today without my help," she said.

Aside from the discussion of Muslim factions and the troubles between Muslims and Christians in the Middle East, Walker Harris, a reporter played by Mike Dick, and Ellen Van Oss, an employee of the State Department played by Rebecca Dettmer, generate powerful tension as the "media" and the "government," helping the play maintain its resonance.

It is interesting to watch Van Oss' doublespeak of sacrifice ram up against Harris' overt idealism and conflicting feelings for Lainie.

"I want people to start thinking about how our government and media influence these events as well," Cherkasky said. "It is a contentious play - people will interpret it in different ways."

On top of the politics, Blessing's script is incredibly poetic. Payne and Space deliver their lines with such passion it seems that every other scene delivers some wild epiphany, especially when Michael faces harsh truths within himself while attempting to discover why he and his wife chose to stay in the war-torn country, despite the violenceCherkasky said the topic attracted her to the play and she has wanted to direct it for years.

"I felt a connection with Lainie and Michael's love with a country falling apart," she said. Cherkasky lived in Indonesia for 10 years, the latter part of which the country was suffering political upheaval and difficult economic changes.

"I loved the people and the country so much," she said. "I didn't want to leave home."

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