Off Broadway (and sometimes Broadway) Reviews and Information.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Two Rooms Is Fresher than Ever

Two Rooms, a 1988 play by Lee Blessings, is having a mesmerizing revival at The Seeing Place now.  It is in repertory with Dying City, and the two shows provide a harrowing glimpse into the lives of those left behind in a time of war.  They work together as a whole, but each can stand alone as a great show.
Alexandra Hellquist & Justin Hoch
At first glance, the context of Two Rooms suggests that it will not age well.  It is the story of the wife of a Lebanese captive, told in the 1980s when hostage taking in Beirut was common.  Michael (Logan Keeler) is an American professor who has been held captive for over a year, and Lainie (an electric Alexandra Hellquist) is his wife back home in the states.  Lainie has stripped one room to the bare walls, to mimic her husband’s imagined condition.  Two Rooms explores her attempts to push  the US Government to resolve her husband’s case.
You quickly forget this play was written 25 years ago.  The specifics of danger have changed, but the complexities of the Middle East, the impotence of the State Department, the motivations of the press and the government are as immediate today as they were in 1988.  And the heartbreak conveyed by Ms. Hellquist as Lainie is powerful in any era.
Lainie is both supported and exploited by the press and the US Government.  Lila Smith plays State Department employee Ellen.  Ellen is equal parts exasperated, frustrated and sympathetic to Lainie and her situation.  Unable to offer anything concrete, she offers hope – which grows stale after years of captivity.  
Ellen’s counterpoint in the press is Walker, played nicely by Justin Hoch.  As a reporter, Walker offers a different route to gain attention.  He works with Lainie to bring her plight to the American people directly.  Walker gives Lainie plenty of time to tell her story, and then provides her a voice in the media.  He also, oh so tentatively, might want to offer more, but Lainie shuts down this avenue before it is even broached.  There are a few perfect moments in which the only caring thing Ellen and Walker can do is to withdraw.  Ms. Smith and Mr. Hoch bring a depth of humanity and dignity to these roles in those moments.
Logan Keeler as Michael (foreground)
Lainie’s primary avenue of comfort comes from being inside the empty room, imagining and feeling the presence of her husband.  They speak at each other as if reading letters.  They compose and read these letters mentally, speaking not at each other, but to their memories of each other.  Done poorly, this would be a terrible bit of schmaltz, but these two actors do it beautifully.  Never quite in sync, they are believable as a married couple, deeply in love, but forgetting details over time.  Ms. Hellquist and Mr. Keeler create a unique chemistry in these periods, remembering and loving a misty reflection of their partners –as the audience sees the partners in real time, striving for a connection that is just out of reach.
Directed by Brandon Walker (who stars in the companion piece Dying City), the pace of the Two Rooms is nearly perfect.  Surprisingly, the longing, the helplessness and the frustration the characters must deal with, convinces the audience to enjoy everything life has to offer.  These two aching shows leave you determine to make every second count.  And the seconds spent at these two shows are well worth the time.  Enjoy!

Two Rooms
Playwright: Lee Blessing
Director: Brandon Walker
Cast: Alexandra Hellquist, Justin Hoch, Logan Keeler, Lila Smith

Thursday, February 27, 2014

An Amazing Dying City by The Seeing Place

The first New York City revival of Dying City demonstrates why this piece was a 2008 finalist for Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Dying City consistently surprises the viewer and challenges expectations.

Erin Cronican & Brandon Walker
The story set up is deceptively simple.  Kelly is a young window who lost her husband Craig in the Iraq War.  A therapist by trade, she appears not to have dealt with her grief.  The unannounced appearance of her husband’s identical twin brother forces her to confront both her guilt in avoiding the family and the grief she hasn’t faced.  

The action shifts inside Kelly’s apartment between 2005 with Her husband’s twin and 2004 the night before he husband leaves.  It is a simple setup, and it implies a story progression and climax by the numbers.  Instead these story leads into unexpected directions, lead by fearless actors.

Erin Cronican plays young widow Kelly and Brandon Walker plays twins Craig and Peter.  I don’t want to give too much away, it would be a sin with a play this rich in emotion, but the actors are amazing.  And amazing acting because it seems, at first, they are rather bad at portraying these characters.

Erin Cronican’s Kelly is a Therapist who is passive and unable to face her own grief, which is a rather simplistic portrayal.  Only as the play progresses does the audience realize, that the character of Kelly is projecting this false face.  Kelly’s later emotional changes and revelations make the Ms. Cronican’s performance exceptional.Brandon Walker’s portrayal of gay brother Peter also seems oddly one-note early in the show.  Peter’s nervous laughter serves as a lazy identifier between the roles, only later does this nervous tick make full sense with the character.  Mr. Walker inhabits both roles believably with wonderful results.I mention this facet of the show, because the slow reveal of the depth of these characters mirrors the depth and slow reveal of the entire show.  It is a pleasure to watch.

Dying City is produced by The Seeing Place, in repertory with Lee Blessing’s play Two Rooms.  It is a fascinating combination, exploring the impact of war on those left behind on the home front.  The women (at home front) in both shows have emotionally cauterized their wounds, but deal with the world very differently.  Different directors, a great Adam Reich in this case, pull these two pieces into harmony.   And a call out is needed for an outstanding effort done by Duane Pagano in lighting design.

Dying City
PlaywrightChristopher Shinn
DirectorAdam Reich
Cast: Erin Cronican, Brandon Walker

Bridges of Madison County is Lush and Beautiful, but...

This is a placeholder until the Bridges of Madison County review is up later.