Assembly Theatre Company has chosen a winner for its first production. Lee Blessing’s 1988 play, Two Rooms, is an important, gripping drama set in the war-torn city of Beirut circa 1986-89. Younger people will probably not remember those times when more than a hundred hostages were taken during the Lebanese Civil War and held in grim, durance vile. Some were even murdered out of hand after being held for years. The city was tearing itself apart by factions such as Hezbollah, Iran, Syria, and ad hoc others. Two hundred and forty-one Americans and fifty-eight Frenchmen, soldiers in a peacekeeping mission, were killed in the Marine Barracks and Embassy bombings. A group calling itself Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility. Life struggled to go on there. The American University kept classes going, but there were tragic losses. Some scholars were even taken hostage.
Two Rooms takes place in a hellhole where Michael (Michael Uribes), a university professor, is held hostage, blindfolded and handcuffed. He is sick, limping, filthy and regularly beaten. He speaks, not to the audience, but to his wife, Lainie (Ashley Felkner), who abides in her husband’s home office, stripped bare save for what looks like a prayer rug, upon which she sits or lies as she talks with her husband in her own desperate way. Between the two, there is a tenuous, imagined communion. The porous fourth wall allows the audience to absorb it all.
A journalist, Walker (Monti Washington), makes contact with Lainie. He is an amiable, earnest sort who wants to interview her, but he is pushy. He comes on as a friend, but always with the goal of getting what he wants, which is, of course, a story, from which he hopes to benefit. He has real affection for her, but the story is paramount.
A State Department apparatchik, Ellen (Jessica M. Legrair), looks in on Lainie from time to time. She comes on friendly, but she too has an agenda. Michael is a pawn in an international game. Michael’s suffering takes a back seat to policy. The government does not pay ransom. Shakespeare always has something to say —“one may smile, and smile, and be a villain.” A little too harsh perhaps, but probably not.
Under the taut direction of Herb Hall, Two Rooms is an actors’ play. Mr. Uribes and Ms. Felkner are extraordinary. Their passion fills the tiny theatre with the deepest true emotion. Add in the performances of Mr. Washington and Ms. Legrair as prevaricators who, while perhaps have some feeling for the hapless husband and wife, cannot, as characters, reach the same level of fervor.
The play takes place on a bare stage, save for a large projection screen up center and the small prayer rug. A chair and a tiny table come on and are soon taken off. The excellent lighting and projections by designer Ray Jones compliment the mood of the play, as does the original music by composer Michael Teoli. Stage manager Carter Demus deftly manages the stage.
Assembly Theatre Company makes an auspicious debut with Two Rooms, now playing through August 18 at Little Victory Theatre, 3326 West Victory Blvd. in Burbank. https://www.thevictorytheatrecenter.org/tickets-events/little-victory