When the political becomes personal, the truth can be devastating. Although Lee Blessing 's "Two Rooms " was written nearly 20 years ago, Blessing's exploration of the impact of a kidnapping in Lebanon has a terrifying familiarity.
Theatre on Fire has created a wonderfully fluid space in the intimate Charlestown Working Theatre to represent the two rooms of the play's title. Lainie Wells (Kate Donnelly) is keeping vigil for her husband Michael (Jason Beals), a former teacher at the American University in Beirut, who, at the start of the play, has been held hostage for a year. Lainie has stripped one room in their home to represent his prison cell, with a rectangular mat on the floor the one spot where she can feel some connection to him.
When we see Michael, he's in the same room -- but now it's his windowless prison cell -- blindfolded and handcuffed, writing imaginary letters to Lainie. He is an innocent, a man whose curiosity and thirst for adventure left him vulnerable to the capricious behavior of desperate men. The kidnappers' voices are so young, he says, "I swear I had them in my class."
The catalysts for the play are two people who prey on Lainie's frustration and fear. One is a representative from the State Department named Ellen Van Oss (Michelle Dowd), who wants Lainie to keep quiet; the other is an ambitious journalist named Walker Harris (Craig Houk) who wants her to speak out.
Lainie's anguish over her husband's fate is exacerbated by their regular visits. Van Oss delivers the government's position, along with useless snippets of information ("They've moved him," she says, "But maybe not."). She keeps urging Lainie not to give up hope, while never giving her any hope to cling to. "Without hope," she says, "we have no foreign policy." When Lainie begs her to do something, she says she can't because "everything enhances the terrorists' power."
Walker badgers Lainie to make her grief public to pressure the government, but his motives are also self-serving. Lainie shows him photo s her husband took in Beirut as a way to explain his fascination with the Middle East, but Walker is most impressed with a photo of Michael and his friend before they were both taken hostage because of the emotional impact it'll have when it's published.
Blessing fearlessly fills his play with enormous amounts of political information, but balances it by putting his words in the mouths of very ordinary, recognizable characters. Like his best-known work, "A Walk in the Woods," which imagined the conversations between an American and a Soviet diplomat away from the negotiating table, "Two Rooms" relies on powerhouse performances to breathe life into his wordy ideas.
Director Darren Evans gets strong performances from Beals and Donnelly, but the production moves too slowly to create the necessary tension for an intensely intimate play. The power of "Two Rooms" comes from its portrayal of two ordinary people whose lives are shattered by incomprehensible political machinations.