Tennessee Williams wrestled with this play for more than a decade, producing five different versions in the 1960s and 1970s, one with the alternate title Out Cry. He never really mastered it, but its obvious importance to him and its raw presentation of some of his recurring themes make it fascinating to any Williams fan.
brother-and-sister acting team, abandoned by their company, have to
perform (Other versions of the text make it a rehearsal) the only
two-character play in their repertoire, about brother-and-sister
agoraphobics trapped in their decaying Southern home.
external and internal personalities get confused and blended, bouncing
off each other to explore from different angles one of Williams'
lifelong concerns, the feeling of being unable to face the challenges
of ordinary life and the need to carry on regardless.
lay in his ability to translate his own personal neuroses and demons
into universal metaphors, and it is clear that on one level the two
stories of the couples being bound together and unable to move forward
reflect his own undeserved guilt at having abandoned (which he didn't
do) his beloved sister Rose, the model for Laura, Blanche and other
too-fragile Williams heroines, and his sense that he will never escape
her - think of the glorious final speech of The Glass Menagerie.
he was clearly
trying to do here was transform that personal anguish into something
others could share - the fear of being unable to cope, the lure of
surrender and even madness, and the heroism of continuing to try, even
if that leads to failure.
awfully close to succeeding, blocked only by the clumsiness of his
Pirandello structure and the fact that these particular characters,
unlike Stanley, Blanche, Brick or Maggie, remain walking symbols, never
fleshed out into real people we can identify with and respond to.
a way, that
almost makes this play a good introduction to Williams, since it
presents his themes and methods so rawly, but it means that The
Two-Character Play will always remain more an intellectual experience
than a living drama.
limitation, director Gene David Kirk and actors Catherine Cusack and
Paul McEwan go further than I thought likely in bringing the play
alive. Both actors at first seem a bit too solid and real for what one
imagines as the wraith-like near-ghosts of the text, but they use that
well, making us sense that even 'normal' people can share the fears and
insecurities Williams writes about.
Imperfect Williams is greater and far more interesting than the perfect work of a lot of lesser writers, and the tiny Jermyn Street Theatre is exactly right for this fragile play, which wants to operate on the level of a gentle and tentative whisper.
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Review - Two-Character Play - Jermyn Street 2010