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Two Rooms

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

The Propinquity production of Two Rooms at the Atlantic Theater Company is the second production of the show in the past year. If you didn't see the production at the Blue Heron Arts Center last fall, you should go now. But if you did see that production, why, you may ask, should you see it again?

Quite frankly, because the show is even more pertinent now than it was then. Then, scarcely two months after September 11, the play seemed to be a placating presence, maybe not providing the answers, but at least clarifying the questions everyone had in the aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center. But Two Rooms seems even more harrowing and topical now. Not bad for a play written in 1988.

Yes, the climate of the United States and its political outlook on a great many things have changed since Lee Blessing wrote Two Rooms in response to the Lebanese hostage crisis. But the conflict at the central core of the play is one that transcends time and specific names and places. If Two Rooms is performed again in fifty years, its messages about the true war - politics versus the media - and the victims it leaves in its wake will still be relevant.

That element is brought right to the forefront here, and it seems to be the soul of director Steve Bebout's conception of the show. Reporter Walker Harris (Matty D. Stuart) and politician Ellen Van Oss (Katie Northlich) both fight for control of Lainie Wells (Christine Fall), whose husband Michael (Guy Camilleri) was kidnapped and imprisoned. Lainie's immediate response was to remove all the furniture from her husband's home office, and spend as much time there as to be as close to him as possible, emotionally and spiritually, though they are physically separated by thousands of miles.

Lainie is pulled in every direction, told by Ellen to say nothing and by Walker to say everything, never sure which (if either) of them truly has her best interests at heart. That's the real strength of Two Rooms - it takes no sides, and takes no prisoners. Northlich is cautiously detached, Stuart emotionally manipulative, the young man trying to break in to an adult world. But both make their cases convincingly.

Still, it's Fall who gives the best performance, a smoldering breakdown that builds over the course of the show, exploding in a destructive emotional fury near the end. She comes across as the true victim in the struggle. Camilleri, unfortunately, never succeeds in bringing across Michael's pain and loss. Their relationship, then, is lopsided, Camilleri's affable nature creating a stronger bond with the audience than with his wife. This greatly weakens the play, making Michael less of a central figure and more of a ghost or memory who does little but intrude on the reality of Lainie's world. Bebout's staging, with Camilleri almost never offstage, does little to discourage this line of thinking.

But Blessing's script, which dramatizes each side of the conflict equally well, makes up for this shortcoming. This production, while less emotionally charged than might be ideal, presents its story and messages with fortitude and clarity, two vital qualities given the subject matter and the world in which Two Rooms seems more relevant than ever.

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Propinquity Productions
Two Rooms
Through July 27
Atlantic Theatre Company, 453 West 16th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues
Schedule and Tickets: (212) 780-2156