Let the pundits say what they will about Tennessee Williams, I still maintain that there’s not much to recommend the output of his latter-day decline, save maybe historically or academically. And though The Two-Character Play is being lauded in some quarters, to me it’s as dreary as the others, written in a period informed by drug dependence and nervous breakdown. They’re plays in which he’s trying to reach past the crushing constraints of his tortured psyche to the poetry of the past, but he’d lost his sense of story, so the plays are meandering character studies that carry diluted, sometimes perversely skewed echoes of themes previously explored in his classic works.
The Two-Character Play, somewhat autobiographical, is about a theatrical brother and sister, both middle-aged, he a writer, she an actress. They meet in an abandoned theatre to rehearse a play that isn’t complete, so their time together becomes a kind of meta-session (to use today’s jargon) in which real-life and theatrical artifice start to become indistinguishable. There’s a haze of family mystery (who killed our parents?) and sibling incest.
There seems to be a strong Waiting for Godot influence here too, but whereas Becket’s Godot surrealism/absurdism is precisely focused and judiciously reduced to bare essence, Williams’ brand seems like imitation of the style without understanding the technique of its mechanism. In this production, (direction by Gene David Kirk) the casting compounds the problem. Amanda Plummer and Brad Dourif have built their careers on what I will cautiously describe as twitchy idiosyncrasy. In the right context, this can be quite powerful (Dourif as Billy Bibbit in the film of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Plummer in Agnes of God or Killer Joe). But in a play that’s essentially a soft-structure fever dream, it just adds to the futility, because there’s nothing of contrasted grounding to set it in relief and give it perspective. What’s more? Half the time they’re in method-mumble mode and you simply can’t understand them. At least I couldn’t, and neither could my companion of the evening.
Since there are those touting this thing, I won’t say categorically it’s to be avoided. But understand that, even giving it the most generos evaluation, you’re in the land of People Making the Most of That Which Can Never Truly Be Said to Work. And judge accordingly.
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