Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
The Two-Character Play
Soon, his sister Clare (Jacqueline Reid) joins him on stage, and he wonders aloud whether his sister will be too panicky to perform. The two are on a stage waiting for everyone to get seated so the curtain can rise on a play within a play. Or so it seems. With this play, you can forget how things seem. We can't get a solid bead on reality.
Are the two characters waiting for the performance to begin? Is the show already over? Is there even a theatre company or have these two actors been abandoned? Are they in their childhood home wondering if they have to courage to venture out now that groceries will no longer be delivered due to their lack of money? Do the doors in the house even work? In this world, a door is not a door, as in Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit. Given all this, the characters are pretty jumpy.
In this swirl of delusion, fantasy, and pressing fear there is one clear reality: the effects of trauma. These siblings were witnesses to the horror of domestic violence, and they're not quite right. Did the trauma happen two decades ago or two weeks ago? Tennessee Williams shows that it doesn't matter. When trauma takes deep root in the psyche, reality can't keep up.
This story is rooted in the deep ties of childhood trauma. The two characters are bonded in their emotional struggle with its accompanying madness. As the story moves along, it becomes clear that they are unable to overcome paralyzing fear. They turn to each other, but their trauma bond provides no hope, no way out. As they try to walk out of their madness together, they are simultaneously holding each other back. At one low point, they consider reenacting the traumatic action of their parents.
Williams knows something about this. He was very close to his sister Rose, who was diagnosed schizophrenic. The awkward bonding of troubled siblings shows up in The Glass Menagerie, which is often considered his most autobiographical work. We also see troubled siblings in The Streetcar Named Desire, with one sister slipping into madness.
In The Two-Character Play, Williams dispenses with the burden of plot. Instead, we get the logic of poetry, where images create a fabric of reality that holds together beyond mere things and actions. Fear rules, time is irrelevant, every development mirrors the trauma, and the two characters are utterly lost.
The play premiered in London at the Hampstead Theatre in December 1967. Williams called it, "My most beautiful play since Streetcar, the very heart of my life." The intensity can be a rough ride for the audience, yet the collage of splintered fragments works together to create a complete picture of debilitating trauma.
While many critics suggest The Two-Character Play shows Williams dipping his dramatic pen into the ink of non-linear playwrights such as Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter, in actuality, this play might simply be an accurate depiction of trauma seen from the inside of the victims' heads.
Directed by Laurie Thomas, Reid and Kelly deliver gripping performances. While the story meanders through reality and delusion, the focus on the trauma is clear throughout. These are not just two broken characters, they are characters who are still in the process of breaking. The emotional reality is crystal clear, even in the narrative cacophony. In whole cloth, the production is stunning.
Kudos to the production crew–always wonderful at Fusion productions–including scenic/lighting designer Richard K. Hogle, sound designer Chad Scheer, costume designer Kc Kelley, and others.
The Two-Character Play runs through May 14, 2023, at Fusion Theatre Company, Cell Theatre, 700 1st St NW, Albuquerque NM. Performances are Thursdays and Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. & 7 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m. General admission is $40. For seniors over 65 tickets are $35. For students tickets are $20. For tickets and information, please call 505-766-9412 or visit fusionnm.org.