Dallas — The need to communicate can be so strong that should you be cut off from the world, you may end up talking to the walls. Some things have to be said, even if they aren’t necessarily heard. Just because the room is empty, doesn’t mean the words are.
That’s the feeling not only in Two Rooms by Lee Blessing and its latest staging by Proper Hijinx Productions, making its debut, in the basement space of Contemporary Theater of Dallas, but also a lot of smaller theaters in Dallas. The players of the page combat their isolation in much the same way as those on the stage by forging ahead driven by a need that is as forceful and familiar as it is invisible.
Founder/director Stefany Cambra has made something of the nothing by dusting off a Lee Blessing play from the eighties about a hostage in Beirut and his wife back home. The bare bones production is notable for her careful staging, but also the eerie (and unfortunate) timeless qualities of the plot. Radicals have taken a hostage and the family’s only recourse is through the government or the press.
The location of the terrorists or their motivation doesn’t matter. Playwright Blessing has hit upon the unfortunate universal of asymmetrical warfare where the pain of a few can be leveraged into hurting many. This play is about that pain.
Meagan Joy Black plays Lainie who has moved all the furniture out of her hostage husband’s home office. Michael McGough plays that role, blindfolded in the same room onstage, while actually being a world away in a cell in Beirut. Though alone, these two talk aloud to one another out of love, devotion and the aforementioned universal need. Director Cambra has so carefully orchestrated her staging that the scenario, though novel, seems normal. It moves like a love story.
The second level of the plot involves a reporter, Walker (Jeff Burleson) and the representative from the State department assigned to the case, Ellen (Angela Davis). Walker comes to the house because he wants the exclusive story. Ellen comes because Lainie will hang up when she hears Ellen’s voice. Lainie can be pretty powerful that way.
Actually, playwright Blessing gives her a lot of power for a woman alone in the gut-churning isolation of a hostage’s stateside family. Both Ellen and Walker want her cooperation, but they can’t give her what she wants: her husband. Of the three, Burleson is the most adept at making the game compelling. While Davis and Black fight for what they want, Burleson comes the closest to risk his character losing. This level of the play moves more like an Aaron Sorkin TV show, lots of brinkmanship that ends with the coda: don’t hate the player, hate the game.
Unfortunately, that unfulfilled feeling that makes you tune-in next week won’t be satisfied. When it’s over, it’s over. There may have been a time when this script could spur some action on the part of its audience, but the same things that make it timeless also reinforce their feelings of inevitability. The best we can hope is to find a love as enduring as the main characters and to cling to it. Our saving grace.
For some, a spouse. For others, art.
Everything else doesn’t matter. Whether it’s the furniture in a room or the audience in the seats.