Americans are particularly spoiled when it comes to what we expect from films, television, and theater. We have to have a presentation that follows a very predicable format, including a likeable hero or heroine, antagonist, life conflict that mirrors our own, and a climax in which good wins over evil. We want to leave these experiences feeling completely uplifted and good about ourselves. What is perceived as negative isn’t even part of our collective consciousness.
And you know what? I absolute HATE that. Abhor it. Think it is ABSURB. Give me a compelling story with characters with FLAWS. Lots and LOTS of flaws, both visible and deep-seeded. I want to see them STRUGGLE through REAL adversity because isn’t that but one component in many of this thing we call ‘life.’
If someone dies at the end or there’s no clear resolution at the end of the story, I am silently applauding the very day the author was born. Honestly. I don’t like easy stories. I want to be compelled to THINK. Steve McQueen, director of the somber and visceral Oscar winning film 12 Years A Slave once said in an interview very candidly, “I could never make American movies – they like happy endings.” I’m with you, Brother.
It is in that spirit I post-humously APPLAUD the late Tennessee Williams for writing the rarely staged “The Two Character Play,” running through this weekend at the Bath House Cultural Center and even MORE APPLAUSE for Wingspan Theatre Company for having the courage to produce it in a market that thrives on the easy and frivolous. Call me a masochist but I sat on the edge of my seat for both acts completely WILLING to have my senses so delightfully assaulted by this incredible, mentally exhausting work.
With outstanding direction from producing artistic director Susan Sargeant, featuring Kevin Scott Keating as Felice and Lulu Ward as Clare, we find this brother and sister acting duo in a non-identified town on a tour in which the other actors have abandoned the production. Relegated to the theater at first when it goes black and they’re accidently locked inside, this space then reforms mentally as the home they share where they are virtual prisoners to their past which includes witnessing the murder-suicide of their parents as young children.
The trauma of the incident affects each of the siblings in different ways, with Felice taking on the role of protector despite his inexperience and naiveté and Clare gladly accepting his role but wanting to assert her own independence at times. Living in close quarters with the opposite sex for that long, regardless of bloodlines, and attraction is bound to happen, which is hinted on in the story but never actualized.
From the very beginning of this story, the physical-mental space where they reside (a play within a play), as well as their actual dialogue is juxtaposed so you’re not always certain what world they’re inhabiting, which is A-Ok because it keeps you on your toes as an audience member. Not exactly a whodunit but more like a “who in the HELL are they and where are they now?!?” Liken it to a ride at Six Flags and you’ll easily understand why the mental ride was so exhilarating!
Ward was simply riveting in her portrayal as the younger sister, taking Clare to the edge of heaven to the brink of hell and then BACK again with absolute perfection. Sometimes the egomaniac and saucy, ever aware that all eyes should be on her adoring her, we find Clare saying haughtily “you know how WONDERFUL I am with the press!” not completely comprehending that they’re not coming. At other moments, we find the younger sibling in complete confrontation with Felice, yelling at him “I WON’T DO LUNATIC THINGS!”
You also see the woman-girl of her character reflected in tender moments where Clare coos with the appropriate maternal instinct of a loving mother as she strokes her brother’s head during a time of panic “Hush, little baby, don’t say a word, Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird,” or nervous in a child-like manner about going with Felice to the market a block away.
Keating throws himself into his character, initially coming off as this larger than life figure who’s overdoing it but then you realize he is channeling the character Williams expertly took 10 years to design and write. As the consummate performer, Felice proudly states with confidence to his sister when she wants to leave the road and go home to more familiar surroundings, “our home is a theater, wherever there is one,” to which Clare counters “I know it’s a prison but it’s familiar to us.” Of course those statements have double meanings because this tale is ‘art imitating life imitating art imitating life’ and so on.
Deathly afraid of doors due to multiple stays at a local mental asylum, Felice has to negotiate with the local market on a renewed line of credit because in the absence of an insurance policy that won’t pay out due to the nature of his parents’ deaths, he and Clare have to eat to survive. But he doesn’t want to. Keating was particularly effective in these moments of intense fear and apprehension, so much so that you immediately sympathize with Felice’s plight, as well as Clare.
In the end, there is a climactic moment which Williams builds very well and Sargeant handles with great subtlety but you’ll have to see the play to find out how it ends. On a sparsely decorated set which allowed these great actors space to completely flesh out the story, “The Two Character Play” deserves more credit than theater critics allow it, especially this production.
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“The Two Character Play” runs through this Sat. Oct. 25, 2014, with evening performances at 8 pm. There is also a Saturday matinee at 2 pm. A post show talk back is schedule for this Fri. Oct. 24.
All performances take place at The Bath House Cultural Center on White Rock Lake, 521 E. Lawther Drive, Dallas, TX 75218. Ticket prices are: $20.00 on Thursday evenings and Saturday matinees. Friday and Saturday evenings are $22.00. There is one remaining “Pay What You Can” performance this Thu. Oct. 23. Discounts available for seniors, Students, KERA Members, STAGE Members and confirmed Groups of Ten (or more). Student Rush tickets available half hour before curtain.
For reservations or additional information, call (214) 675-6573, email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit WingSpan’s website at: www.wingspantheatre.com.