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Review Roundup: Diverse City Theater Company’s TWO ROOMS

New York, August 22, 2012 - Diverse City Theater Company's limited run of Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award nominated playwright Lee Blessing's 24-year-old, politically motivated play "Two Rooms" plays its last week at the Lion Theatre at Theater Row on 42nd Street until Friday, August 24. 

"Two Rooms" is about Michael (played with understated sensitivity by Curran Connor), an American professor who is held hostage in Lebanon for several years; and Lainie (played with persuasive mixed emotions amid adversity by Bree Michael Warner), the professor's wife who returns to the U.S. to hold a vigil for her husband in their home near the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

In essence, the play, directed by Jamie Richards, tackles the U.S. government's complacency toward terrorism abroad; the prying eyes of the media; and the bond of love and trust between husband and wife.

Below are some review excerpts that the production, which also features Victor Lirio (Walker, an ambitious journalist) and Dawn Evans (Ellen, a State Department official), has garnered over the last two weeks.

Randy Gener, Diverse City Theater's nervy production argues that "Two Rooms" has not lost an inch of topical relevance (even though Blessing himself notes in an interview in the company's website that "perhaps today's audiences won't be quite so stunned by governmental indifference to the plight of American citizens in this sort of situation").  The play has not lost its eloquence.  It is a muted cry of rage. Undiminished are its import and lyrical effectiveness. It dramatizes a couple's harrowing isolation (not just in a foreign country but in one's homeland)…

Bree Michael Warner… stand[s] out as an actor.  As Lainie, she brings an honesty and sincerity to the part of the tender and loving wife living in her imagination and as the guarded woman living in the real world on The Edge of collapse.  Dawn Evans, as the ice-queen from the State Department, sometimes verges on the caricature, but she's effective given the straitjackets of a part that requires her to red-tape her humanity and yap bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo.

Victor Lirio is terrific as the opportunistic journalist who pushes Lainie to activism and emblazons her pain in headlines. In lesser hands, it could have turned out to be a cliched character, yet Lirio saves it through the sheer force of his charismatic personality. He and Warner mine the romantic undercurrents of the reporter/subject relationship without overplaying their hands. They have a strong connection, and you can feel it, especially in the scene where the State Department officer goes into a conniption. Catch, if you can, the quick flash of triumph that briefly passes through Lirio's and Warner's faces when Evans's tough-as-nails caseworker goes ape-shit because our aggrieved Penelope went public with her story.

For almost the entirety of the play, actor Curran Connor underplays the tough part of Michael. Portraying an American professor held hostage in a dark room in Beirut, Connor does not resort to blazing theatrics or obvious sentimentality, and he should be commended for it. It's a stubborn choice, and you can argue that perhaps he could have shaded it with more anger or torment or physical pain, but his rooted performance chimes with Richards's sensitive (and arguably too-dutiful, for the reasons stated above) staging of Blessing's riveting play. Michael Wells is only a pawn, the lowest in a factious and fractious chain of America's geopolitical marsh in the Middle East.

Andy Buck, Lee Blessing is fascinated by political change as is evidenced in such plays as "A Walk in the Woods," "Going to St. Ives," "Chesapeake" and "Two Rooms," which Diverse City Theater Company is reviving at the Lion Theatre at Theatre Row. Since the play is heavy on monologues and has a plot in which non-action is the principal action, it needs a more expert production than this one, directed by Jamie Richards, to be fully effective…

Only Dawn Evans, as a State Department official assigned to Michael and Lainie's case, has a fairly consistently compelling under-life to her character that is able to shine through Richards' sluggish pacing.

Blessing's play still has a lot to say about the agonizing process of political change, even as it speaks to us from an ancient time before Twitter, Facebook, and the Arab Spring. But it also remains a story in need of fully-dimensional human beings.

EuGene Paul, When playwright Lee Blessing wrote "Two Rooms" in 1988, it was highly topical. American hostages had been held for years in Iran and the United States, the Great Satan, was never sure of getting back any of them alive. Blessing flat out tells his producer, his director, his cast and the audience how he approaches his story. It's right there in the title: two rooms, one for the hostage, one for the hostage's hostage, his wife, waiting, waiting, in the United Stages. Director Jamie Richards all but ignores her writer by asking her set designer, Maruti Evans, to make a statement. And that he does, in spades. The setting by Evans is so striking, so overwhelming, especially in the confined Lion Theatre space, that it dominates the play. It becomes, it is, its own reality.

The two rooms playwright Blessing had in mind are the windowless cell holding the prisoner, Michael, somewhere in Lebanon and here, in the United States the room stripped bare by his wife, Lainie, in their house, windows blacked out, in order for her to share her husband's ordeal on top of her own. The play we are watching never comes close to this supercharged concept. We certainly get the hostage. Michael (Curran Connor) is unmistakable. Connor has made himself achingly realistic, the suffering, the beatings, there not only in his posture, but in his clothes, his skin, his hair; his interior pain, the absence, the longing, in his voice, in his blindfolded eyes, the big, soft man with the baby face, profoundly innocent. It's a lovely performance.


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