BWW Review: Very Funny Jamaican Situation Comedy TWO CAN PLAY is Revived by the New Federal Theatre
The phrase "Two Can Play at that game" implies retaliation against an act of deception, deceit or harm. In Trevor Rhone's enormously satisfying comedy, two characters engage in a game of wits. Survival is one theme. Surviving a twenty year marriage. Managing to live in a world which has become a gun battleground. Poverty and joblessness are suffocating. Dreaming for a better life in America. Aspiring to being a woman who is more than a domesticated slave. The flavor is Jamaican but the targets are universal.
Jim and Gloria are attempting to sleep in their Kingston home. Gunfire is ablaze outside which is nothing new. Elderly "Pops" is in the back room coughing. Jim is completely paranoid. He is nervous and on edge. Gloria suggests he take more valium. This play takes place in the 1970's. Despite the tensions and horrors of life in this lower middle income neighborhood, the tone is one hundred percent situation comedy. The foibles and tribulations of a couple after their children have fled the coop for better pastures in America.
All three kids are now illegal immigrants there. Son Andrew sends a letter home. Jim is fearful about his children being caught. "Uncle Sam is a bitch. Him have satellite up in the sky can read number on dis house." Imagine how Jim's worries would escalate with thirty years of additional and more invasive technologies. His other son Paul has three jobs. Dad's reaction is "God bless America."
Pops dies in the first scene. Jim and Gloria hatch a plan to emigrate to the United States. "We have to go to Uncle Sam." In classic comedy fashion they will bicker over money which is very tight. Jim notes that Gloria is spending too much on "war paint" which could buy extra food. She retorts, "Yuh still have money for yuh cigarette though." Gloria appears smarter and more resourceful than her domineering husband and is learning to gain power in the relationship.
Today she witnessed a man selling a puff for ten cents. Gloria invests in a carton and negotiates with her husband. Jim reluctantly pays $1.50 for a cigarette. He then asks for a match. That'll be another ten cents. The scene is a small one but nicely demonstrates the state of their relationship. Through all the dangers and disappointments in their lives, they have managed to survive to this point with their classically humorous and recognizable identities. While this Jamaican couple is drawn as a stereotype, that is clearly playwright Trevor Rhone's intention. These two are prototypes of similar dreamers everywhere.
There are tons of laughs written into this comedy which is being revived after its 1985 New York premiere. Gloria's frustrations are a common one even today. She knows her husband is seeing someone else on Tuesday nights. "You can't manage your homework properly yet yuh taking on extracurricular activity." They are aligned, however, in escaping their increasingly embattled homeland for the promise of America. We laugh with them due to their personalities but the urgency registers regardless of the humor.
Another satisfying layer of Two Can Play is the emergence of Gloria as a woman. She's discovering that her servitude needs to change. She is no longer property to lend, lease or rent. Her adventures in this play are thoroughly enjoyable. When she realizes the only thing holding her marriage together is crisis, her transformation blossoms. The play nicely builds a believable story arc despite the wildly entertaining comedic escapades.
Joyce Sylvester and Michael Rogers are terrific as Gloria and Jim. Their chemistry has the appropriately lived-in feel. They both know how to expertly land a joke and they each have an abundance of them. Their oversized facial expressions are truly hilarious. Director Clinton Turner Davis wisely turns up all the dials to showcase this play as a big and very broad comedy. These two characters could easily carry a television series. You love their imperfections. You want to hear about their desires. And, finally, you root for their ultimate success, whatever that will mean.
The New Federal Theatre production of Two Can Play is running at the Castillo Theatre through April 5, 2020.