“I am mostly bound and blindfolded throughout the play,” Fort Lewis College senior Holden Grace said about his newest role.
Grace portrays Michael Wells, a prisoner of Hezbollah in a Beirut prison. Periodically, Michael is shuffled to other places, but his story is one of harsh confinement.
So is his wife’s. Lanie (Sadie Wendt) seeks to share her husband’s ordeal by symbolically re-creating a sparse room in their American home. The two write love letters to each other while bureaucracy churns on. Ellen (Tyler Gleason) visits Lanie only to spout boilerplate clichés about hope and practicing “cautious optimism” because the government wants Lainie to remain silent during the hostage crisis. A fourth character, Walker (Deuschesne Ventris), brings the skepticism of modern journalism. He questions everything.
Welcome to the claustrophobic world of Lee Blessing’s 1988 play, “Two Rooms.” The now-32-year-old political drama/love story has remarkable shelf life well beyond its premiere in 1990. Since that time, colleges and community theaters across the country have staged “Two Rooms,” only partly because hostage dramas have staying power. The parallels of incarceration – a prisoner abroad and a family at home, government fumbling and media oversight – all unspool in this taut drama.
“Michael’s three years in captivity progress from beginning to end,” Grace said of his character’s ordeal. “It’s been the most challenging role of my life.”
“As Michael’s wife, Lanie, I’ve stripped my room to make it more like his cell,” Sadie Wendt said of her role. “At the beginning, Lanie’s going a little looney, and in my first monologue, I’m talking to myself. Lanie also mocks those in power.”
Both actors said it took them time to find moments of humor embedded in the script.
“But they are there,” Wendt said. “These are two people who deeply love each other.”
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.