Simplicity is the key to success in Two Rooms, a new production currently playing at the Gene Frankel theater. Written by Lee Blessing, this achingly sincere, frighteningly relevant story was first debuted 20 years ago but packs even more of a punch today.
Two Rooms tells the story of Michael, an American college professor who has been captured and held hostage by Arab terrorists. His wife, Lainie is at home, desperately waiting for any news regarding him. Distraught and emotionally exhausted, her few companions include Walker, an ambitious newspaper reporter, and Karen, a cool, calm representative from the State Department. In an attempt to remain connected with Michael, Lainie removes all of the furniture from his study in their house and spends her days sitting on a rug, talking to him.
Walker pressures Lainie to talk to the press, telling her that it will help people. Karen tells her to remain quiet and keep hope alive because going public will put Michael in more danger. Torn between the two, Lainie shuts herself down, isolates herself and, confused and frightened, withdraws more and more from society.
The play is staged on a single, efficiently minimal set that shifts easily between a hostage cell and Lainie’s room. The lighting and sound are effectively chilling, but never overdone. But the true success comes from the efforts of the cast, which gives authentic, honest performances that are truly touching. As Michael, Joe Osheroff gives a chilling depiction as the victim of cruelty and abuse. While he shows regret and frustration, he never seems to show anger. Instead, he focuses on his longing to return home. As Karen, Tori Davis inspires the contradictory emotions of hatred, but also sympathy. She is brisk, detached, efficient, and effective, but never cruel. Because Lainie refuses to talk on the phone, Karen pays her weekly visits to deliver any news of Michael. She appears to be robotic, but actual emotion is lurking underneath her buttoned-up blazers. Garrett Lee Hendricks’ Walker inspires similar reactions. One my not agree with his or Karen’s politics, but they do have the best intentions at heart. Walker and Lainie build a true report together, and the sight of him comforting her when she breaks down is touching. Tracy Hostmyer’s Lainie carries the heaviest burden onstage, with the most stage time and the toughest role to play, and Hostymer shoulders burden, being innocently scared some times, and at others, ferociously angry. Dressed plainly and without care, her grief and pain are always apparent. The scenes where she imagines herself conversing with Michael are the only times the audience sees her smile or hears her laugh. It’s simple, it’s effective, and it’s heartbreaking.
American audiences, saturated with idle news of the Presidential election, audiences would do well to flock to this production, which delivers some very different news.
“Everyone did their best. And that’s what frightens me,” Lainie says after learning that Michael has been shot. The same could be said of this production.