The Ripple Effect Theatre Company gets intimate at The Bakery
Lee Blessing’s Two Rooms is a heart-wrenching story as poignant today as when it was written 25 years ago. The theatre space at The Bakery provides a perfect setting for director Brandon Palmer’s understated take on a play which speaks to our modern times with a voice as loud any full theatrical ensemble.
The play is a shout out to minimalism with only four actors commanding our attention and a set consisting of not much more than a rug and the occasional chair. This type of production demands much of the actors, and maybe even more of the audience. The Bakery holds just enough seats to call it an audience, and brings everyone close enough to feel the tears fall from the actor’s cheeks.
Two Rooms is a story about American hostage Michael Wells held captive in a windowless cell in Beirut. He spends his days telling stories to his wife Lainie who is anxiously waiting for news in their home back in the U.S. Lainie has cleared out all of the furniture from the home office save for a rug. The two “meet” on that spot repeatedly throughout the performance- Michael blindfolded and bleeding, talking to her from his cell and she doing her best to see him, with her on the rug, she sharing in his captivity by shutting out the world.
While Michael endures 3 years of torture, Lainie must undergo a torment of the heart at the hands of reporter Walker Harris who is out for justice, and perhaps a Pulitzer Prize in telling her story; and Ellen Van Oss, the State Department handler assigned to her.
All four actors take their turn commanding the stage as long monologues carry us from the mind of Michael to the tug-of-war between Walker and Ellen using Lainie as the rope.
Sam Gilstrap demands that we find the peace he seems to experience through his powerful performance as Michael. With blood and tears we feel his hopeless plight as he stumbles in and out of scenes and across the small room.
Joe Von Bokern’s Walker exudes the tenacity of a reporter determined to get the story, yet is compassionate enough to endear himself to both Lainie and the audience in his efforts to aid in freeing Michael.
Paige Lynn Larson is both austere and complacent in her role as Ellen. It is as if she actually works at the State Department, her political pandering is so palpable.
However, it is Haley Johnson’s embodiment of Lainie carries the full weight of the production. Her stand out performance so rips at our hearts, we want to reach out and comfort her through her torment of not knowing.
Though set during the Lebanese hostage crisis of the 80’s Two Rooms brings the current ISIS hostage situation in to close perspective. The actor’s portrayal is convincing enough to elicit both frustration and anger in the audience as we imagine the story of the play could very well be happening in the terrorist’s world today.
Two Rooms By Lee Blessing
Directed By Brandon Palmer
Produced By The Ripple Effect Theatre Company
Now playing Friday, Saturday & Sunday through April 11
The Bakery 2132 Market Street, Denver, CO
For Reservations: 720-441-2933, or visit www.rippleeffecttheatreco.com