Back in the town of Bnei Brak

Gilad Shalit has returned home.  He is plumped up, safe, and writing about sports.  But the questions raised by his capture and release linger, so it is appropriate for the Diverse City Theater Co. to revive Lee Blessing’s Two Rooms, a 1988 play about the kidnapping of an American professor in Beirut.  As Michael (Curran Connor) remains locked in a small room, his wife, Lainie (Bree Michael Warner), juggles a government bureaucrat (Dawn Evans) and a sensationalist reporter (Victor Lirio) and is sometimes visited by her husband in her dreams.  In an act of symbolic solidarity, she “cleanses” his office, getting rid of every item except a modest carpet; both she and Michael, then, are trapped by their surroundings.  At one point, she fondly recalls his eyes—all women love eyes, she says smilingly—but for most of the first act Michael is blindfolded.  Mr. Shalit is not the only victim of terrorism evoked by this production.  Occasionally, photos are projected behind the actors, a familiar black rectangle cutting through the center of them, obscuring some of their content.  To borrow a phrase from Art Spiegelman, these characters are living in the shadow of no towers.

In a recent interview, Mr. Blessing claims to have gone “shopping on the front page of all the papers” to find material for this play and later admits that he has not stayed on top of the subject in the last twenty-four years.  This, I think, is the problem with Two Rooms.  It lacks the passion necessary to address an issue as heated at this one.  Though it should be praised for avoiding glib answers, it never seems to pursue the interesting questions.  They are raised, for sure, but not examined with any intellectual or emotional seriousness.  The story doesn’t feel necessary to the playwright; Two Rooms could have just as easily been about the Iran-Iraq War, the Atlanta Prison Riots, or the International Paper strike.  By the third bird and fish metaphor (Lainie is a scientist), Mr. Blessing proves both a lazy writer and somewhat of an opportunist.

The cast is fine, even if they are not given particularly chewy material to work with.  Ms. Warner, dark, attractive, Jewish-looking (she could be the wife Mr. Shalit didn’t have) is particularly good at navigating some of the clumsier dialogue, and Mr. Connor does a nice job without the use of his eyes, probably an actor’s most important tool.  Unfortunately, they—as well as the material—are not given the play they deserve.

Two Rooms runs through August 25th at the Lion Theatre.  410 W. 42nd Street  New York, NY.

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Aaron Botwick

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