Directed by Gene David Kirk
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
At the interval of the Saturday June 22nd performance of Tennessee Williams’ “The Two-Character Play,” a seemingly perplexed patron approached a member of the house staff at New World Stages and asked if she could “go into one of the other theatres because this play is not my cup of tea.” The staff person informed her she could only re-enter the theatre she was ticketed for. Although she chose not to return, the rest of the audience took their seats for the second scene and experienced the remarkable performances of two actors portraying the dissolution of the human psyche and the human spirit.
Amanda Plummer (Clare) and Brad Dourif (Felice) are brother and sister who, after (perhaps) witnessing the murder of their mother and suicide of their father, have teetered on the brink of insanity (sanity?) for all of their adult lives. Ms. Plummer clearly (Clare) configures her character caught in an emotional prison with “no place to return to” and delivers Mr. Williams’ text with unparalleled skill. Her character Clare instructs her brother on the boundaries of prevarication with “a simple lie is one thing, the opposite of truth is another.” Mr. Dourif’s character attempts to remain happy (Felice) in the face of hopelessness. He offers Clare ways out of the dysfunctional dyad, an offer she cannot accept. “FELICE. You couldn’t stop any more than I could, Clare. CLARE. If you’d stopped with me, I could have. FELICE. With no place to return to, we have to go on, you know.”
The madness exposed on stage counterpoints with the madness still unexposed in the audience. Ego strength gives way to the matrix of unbridled images (think: the opening of Pandora’s Box) imprisoned in layers of consciousness lurking far below Freud’s Id. Alice Walkling’s somewhat surreal set is an appropriate space for the inter-cranial conversations between sister and brother abused by and confined by fear.
Felice’s words serve as bookends to Williams’ powerful play: “To play with fear is to play with fire. No, worse, much worse, than playing with fire. Fire has limits. It comes to a river or sea and there it stops, it comes to stone or bare earth that it can’t leap across and there is stopped, having nothing more to consume. But fear – Impossible! Fear! The fierce little man with the drum inside the rib cage. Yes, compared to fear grown to panic which has no — what? — limits, at least none short of consciousness blowing out and not reviving again, compared to that, no other emotion a living, feeling creature is capable of having, not even love or hate, is comparable in — what? — force? — magnitude?”
Director Gene David Kirk cautiously but bravely moves Ms. Plummer and Mr. Dourif across the mindscape of Ms. Walkling’s set as they play cat-and-mouse with the “the fierce little tin man with the drum inside the rib cage” hoping perhaps this time to terminate the endless performance of Felice’s script.
Like George and Martha before them, however, Felice and Clare cannot jettison out of their Saṃsāra. They know they are destined to re-enter Felice’s script repeatedly until death do them part. And they refuse the soothing relief of the same murder-suicide that precipitated their Dali-esque existence in which one is unable to “understand the other’s confusion” or neither can “hear the same thing at the same time.”
“The Two-Character Play” is one of Tennessee Williams important works and one of the most important plays currently running Off-Broadway. Do not miss the opportunity to see this production