BWW Reviews: Two of a Kind Through it All
Is there something in this world that holds us back from our potential, from our lives, without ever allowing us to grow and move forward? Can there exist a secret that not only becomes one's responsibility to hide from the world, but actually becomes the person, shaping the existence of those forced to conceal from the world a vicious act not of their own doing? Through no fault of their own do brother and sister become marred by the unhappiness of their parents before them, unfortunate souls who bore witness to a tragedy whose consequences remained long after such a vicious deed was done.
In the present day (whenever that may happen to be), brother and sister must "live" within the contour constructed around their lives, inhibiting them from experiencing anything more than a sub-human existence - all created as a result of their parents' lack of will to live in the world unhappy. From the past does the audience bear witness to this continuous, never-ending cycle that has already transformed the unfortunate Felice and Claire into things no greater than the "people," as Felice takes great risk in calling them, for whom they perform on this given night. Tennessee Williams' The Two-Character Play is nothing short of an experience, and really gives an audience quite a bit to think about.
Directed by Romy Ashby and starring real-life couple Regina Bartkoff and Charles Schick, 292 Theatre's production of Williams' lesser known play is unique, even before one enters into the world of this dark plot. The theatre is located within the heart of the East Village, so expectations of a traditional stage with continuous rows of numbered seats should be promptly disposed of. Instead, a different type of theatrical experience emerges by having a theatre nestled snugly in a location one would never expect to find one - nowadays, anyway. This space has provided a performance space for the group's shows since the early 1990s, at which time the building was surrounded by tiny storefront theatres, many even located in cellars below. A majority of these theatres have disappeared, yet 292 has remained to provide a NY audience with an experience that is clearly very difficult to find at present. It's charming, to say the least, and really gives a theater-goer the chance to become involved in a bit of history alongside the basic concept of "going to see a show." Not only that, but this proves that theater can happen virtually anywhere, so long as the cast and crew are dedicated to bringing a playwright's vision to life to people perhaps not familiar with a show and its plot - as is the case with this production.
The Two-Character Play is extremely simplistic in terms of costume, set, props and all that flare that helps bring a show and the constructed reality of its plot to life; it is simplistic in every area but that of its plot. The best way to describe this is by thinking of every bleak, existentialist production you may ever have seen, and remember how little of "everything else" is necessary to bring to life the dark nature of the plot aside from the devastation that is the storyline and that eerie feeling which comes from the realization that the show is not for entertainment purposes.
Saying this, one may automatically allude to the dismal world of Beckett, or perhaps the concept Pirandello was after in his Six Characters in Search of an Author. The idea of being misplaced, proving certain people in certain circumstances to be unfit for the world within which they were meant to live - an existence given to them by some being who appreciates intense soul searching and illogical means of doing so - is exactly the kind of world Williams introduces his audience to in this play.
Felice and Claire - brother and sister - have a burden to bear that it seems, for the intents and purposes of this play, will never be removed from their shoulders. They neither asked for this burden, nor does it seem that their lives were destined to be forever controlled by the consequences wrought by the tragedy of their parents' deaths; on the contrary, Williams' reveals that the siblings' childhood was quite happy and, dare the word be said, "normal." The concept of human life has been tossed aside and forgotten in the midst of this play as, when tragedy had struck so many years before, the condition of life and the concept of the time it takes for life to become something of meaning were sacrificed for the world the audience must bear witness to throughout the dismal telling of this play. Brother and sister are both mentally and physically unable to escape a crime that happened within the home they still call theirs - a place that they are unable to leave without immense fear and much talk of how much better it would be to escape the jarring remarks of outsiders and the sunlight which still shines so brightly upon their house. This is a mocking sunlight indeed. Although Felice and Clair were not originally destined for such solitude and misery, the faults of their parents left them trapped in a life that is fundamentally relentless and from which they cannot escape.
What is so interesting about the concept of this play is how both characters still fight for some semblance of a normal life. The couple has chosen to become actors, surprisingly invested in the nature of their acting, even though they haven't the slightest idea what sort of specimens have come to see the show. During the "staged" show is when the audience comes to see how closely linked play and reality truly are; it is Felice's creation, after all, and to model a play after real life is a valuable yet complete understatement in this plot. Felice is creating a production based on what happened in the lives of brother and sister, yet which aspects of it are real, and which ones have been changed? It is unclear as to where reality end and where constructed plot takes over - something that makes Williams' play so existential and ultimately so raw in its nature. Williams wrote The Two- Character Play during a tumultuous time in his own life, on the verge of being admitted into a psychiatric hospital for deep depression, so he must have experience some of these feelings within his own mind; the message of the play becomes that much more poignant with knowledge of the playwright's own faults and mental limits.
His own tragedy was transformed into this story of brother and sister being trapped in a theatre housing a performance that is so bad, their company has up and left them in an unknown location. They cannot leave a theater that is cold and dark; parallel to the tragedy that is their lives, they are unable to find an escape, even though the audience has found a way out of the theatre. It is as though Felice and Claire, very much like the characters of Beckett's Waiting for Godot, have been placed in the world with no solid purpose, repeating again and again the same thing each day without any hope of ever moving forward; it is insanity at its highest point, and to watch Bartkoff and Schick bring these siblings to life within a dimly lit space which perfectly captures the eerie and dark feeling of this plot is fantastic. They show how brother and sister truly need each other, and how these two beings, essentially "two of a kind," are nothing without one goading, supporting, even simply talking to the other; these stories always have two people, just to give each the illusion that they are indeed capable of being human, even though the ridicule and satire in that statement is all too clear.
Kudos to Ashby, Assistant-Director Brandon Lim, Choreographer Liz Piccoli and the cast and crew of this wonderful production of The-Two Character Play. If you would like to see a show that really does get you thinking of life in a different life, please go and see this production, It is being performed at 292 Theatre, which is located at 292 East 3rd Street in the East Village. Performances began on March 19th and will continue thru April 12th. To find out more about the show, please visit www.292theatre,com; the group can also be found on Facebook by searching "The Two Character Play at 292 Theatre." The show is approximately 80 minutes long without an intermission. While you're there, take a look at the paintings on the wall, as they were created by the two actors starring in this production!
Enjoy the show!
Photo Credit: Romy Ashby