THEATRE REVIEW: THE TWO-CHARCTER PLAY (1973)
Written by Tennessee Williams
A Good Old Neon Production
Trigger warning! This play contains slow, circling ruminations about the fragility of life, the finality of death and the f-word: fear. But if you can stomach the existential dread, you'll be rewarded. Thanks to Amy Keating's competent direction, Good Old Neon's production has heart, pathos and fine performances.
Tennessee Williams took 10 years to write The Two-Character Play (finished in 1973), and even though it clocks in at a tidy 80 minutes, it certainly feels like it contains a decade's worth of personal reflection and grief. Claire (Nicole Wilson) and Felice (Matt Pilipiak) are a brother and sister who've been abandoned by their acting troupe mid-tour. Left in the theatre alone, they cling to the only comfort they still have: playing make-believe. As they weave in and out of their strange play-within-a-play, it becomes increasingly difficult to tell what's real and what's put on, and we're left wondering what to think and who, if anyone, to trust.
This could make the already cryptic story even more impenetrable, but the actors' earnest, nuanced performances and clear choices keep us engaged. Claire and Felice know how to push each other's buttons (like many of Williams's characters), but they share a desperate sort of affection that's both sad and endearing.
The playwright's work thrives on tension in close quarters, and the already small Tarragon Workspace is further shrunk by Lindsay Dagger Junkin's nested set. It works well, but some of the resulting blocking - especially during action sequences - can make it seem like more like an obstacle than an asset.
Even so, Wilson and Pilipiak forge a connection that takes on a life of its own. At the performance I attended, when one surly audience member - who had complained earlier about an oddly placed mirror - got up to leave, Wilson added a third layer to the play's meta-structure by asking Pilipiak/Felice to wait until the man had left before they continued, which got a big audience reaction. Quick, natural and perfectly in character.
The Two-Character Play reflects on the invisible line between indulging in fiction and coming to terms with the truth. It's not Williams's strongest work, but it's a potent reminder of what escapism can teach us about the inescapable.