The Two-Character Play: plot synopsis
Amanda Plummer and Brad Dourif star in Tennessee Williams's long, rarely performed 1975 metatheatrical pièce à clef—a rewrite of the 1971 flop Out Cry—about brother and sister actors backstage on opening night of a show that blurs into their lives. Gene David Kirk directs.
The Two-Character Play: theater review by Adam Feldman
The current revival of Tennessee Williams’s The Two-Character Play has multiple layers of obscurity. First there is its rarity: Williams labored on this intense two-hander for years before its 1975 debut, and although he allegedly considered it one of his finest efforts, history has not agreed with him yet. Then there is the play itself, an intentionally confusing metatheatrical curiosity in which Williams filters themes from his family history—the two characters are a playwright, Felice, and his deranged sister, Clare—through fogged lenses of European experimental theater. (Beckett and Pirandello come to mind.) Finally, there is Gene David Kirk’s production at New World Stages, in which Amanda Plummer and Brad Dourif, who seem deeply underrehearsed, do precious little to clarify what’s happening onstage. It all feels like an early off-book rehearsal, with the actors still groping at who they are meant to be.
Some of this quality may be inherent to the text, in which the batty Felice and Clare—broke and abandoned by their theater company—perform a semi-improvised play based on their own traumatic background. But the shapelessness of the performance and mise-en-scène makes the first act a virtual sleeping pill. (The second is better, thanks in part to the presence of a gun.) Shifting among various strange accents, Plummer has a feral magnetism that is hard to deny, but she and the soft-talking Dourif form no palpable connection to each other. By the end of the evening, the siblings hope to escape their woes by getting “lost in the play”; all too often, the actors seem lost up there already.—Theater review by Adam Feldman
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