Political drama celebrates love

The Baltimore Sun

Colonial Players continues its 60th season with the first of its three abbreviated weekend offerings in Lee Blessing's 1988 political drama "Two Rooms," a play that celebrates love. A husband and wife are political hostages across miles - he imprisoned by Lebanese radicals, and she in the study of their Washington home. It is their love for each other that allows them to cope with the ordeal.

Protagonists Michael and Lainie Wells are American teachers who had worked in Beirut where Michael was captured by terrorists and, as the play begins, has been held for more than a year.

At home in Washington, Lainie has stripped her husband's study bare of furniture with only a single mat on the floor to simulate Michael's cell. She has given up her job teaching science and spends most of her time in darkness and silence within her created cell, often communicating with Michael.

The play begins with a blindfolded and handcuffed Michael, barefoot and wearing only an undershirt and shorts, being thrown into his cell. Here, he narrates touching letters to his wife, expressing his devotion in letters that cannot be sent.

The set is a stark room with only a dingy bathmat on the floor, which is used by both Michael and Lainie, both coping by their imaginary loving communication with each other.

The powerless state of the hostage and his spouse is palpable here.

Blessing's play retains an urgent relevance to the continuing war against terrorism in Iraq and in current hostage and detainee situations there and in Guantanamo.

In addition to Michael and Lainie, characters include State Department representative Ellen Van Oss, who advises Lainie to remain silent and hopeful that the government will eventually negotiate her husband's freedom, and reporter Walker Harris, who, counseling the opposite, encourages Lainie to inform the public to arouse sympathy.

The Colonial Players production under the direction of Edd Miller boasts a strong cast. Perhaps the most challenging role is prisoner Michael, played by Ben Carr, who is required to play almost every scene blindfolded.

Carr consistently reveals that Michael's love for his wife enables him to survive and even transcend the confines of his cell. In one emotion-packed scene, Carr moves from a lyrical soliloquy to Lainie to frustration that builds to near fury before dissolving into acquiescence.

Equally compelling is Heather Quinn as Lainie, coping with her victimization. She expresses her confusion and distress at the lack of help from government's Van Oss, who conveys the official position without apparent empathy for Lainie's untenable situation, and she shows her distrust of reporter Harris, suspecting him of being motivated by his journalistic ambitions.

Quinn is affecting in her conversations with her husband, where she touchingly imagines how he looks in his prison cell, talking about his beard and long hair that may alter his appearance.

As Van Oss, Beth Terranova is outstanding as she authoritatively states the government position in one scene before the American flag, using projected images to explain the current national policy for dealing with terrorists and indicating that hostages might at times be expendable. Terranova hints at an underlying sympathy for Lainie to bring a nuanced human dimension to what may, in less skilled hands, seem a one-dimensional character.

Terry Averell offers the vigorous intensity and practical political knowledge of his reporter character Harris. Averell's Harris seems more intent on helping Lainie than on using her for career advancement.

This is a well-acted, politically relevant drama that is well worth seeing. "Two Rooms" runs Thursdays through Sundays through Jan. 18 at Colonial Players Theater on East Street in Annapolis. Tickets are available at www.cplayers.com or at the box office, 410-268-7373. For today's 2 p.m. performance, buy one ticket and get one for half-price.

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