Sad familiarity

Blue Room production of Two Rooms suggests the pointless manipulations of power

REMEMBERING YOU <br>Hostage Michael Wells (Joe Hilsee) conjures the sensation of touching the face of his wife (Elizabeth Kollings) in the Blue Room’s <i>Two Rooms.</i>

Hostage Michael Wells (Joe Hilsee) conjures the sensation of touching the face of his wife (Elizabeth Kollings) in the Blue Room’s Two Rooms.

Photo by Tom Angel

Two Rooms, The Blue Room Theatre, Through Saturday, Aug. 31, Directed by Hugh Brashear

The first thing that greets the eye of the observer upon entering the Blue Room is the image of a blown-up building. Prior to 9-11, the scene would have been associated mostly with some other country. Now, that is simply not the case. And, as the slide show clacks through its drum of images, displaying gun-hoisting militia men and more scenes of destruction, the culminating effect is one of sad familiarity.

Yet, this play is not a downer. For all the stark realities set in its situations, for all the genuine sense of loss conveyed by its actors, the Blue Room Theatre’s current production of Lee Blessing’s Two Rooms is empowering and even hopeful in the sense of outrage it ignites in a viewer.

Basically, an American exchange instructor at the university in Beirut is taken hostage by Shiites simply because he is an American. Michael Wells has no particular political viewpoint concerning the doings in Lebanon; he’s just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

After two weeks and no word from Michael’s captors, Wells’ wife Lainie moves back to their home near Washington, D.C. She’s dependent upon U.S. State Department representative Ellen vanOss for updates on Michael’s condition and the few vague assurances vanOss can offer as comfort regarding Wells’ eventual release.

But Lainie is already beginning to feel a sense of futility with official channels. She’s dragged all the furniture save a mattress out of her husband’s study in an attempt to maintain a sense of emotional connection with him and his situation. To make matters more complicated, Lainie’s being hounded by a reporter encouraging her to go public with her story—hey, if anything, those guys would never hurt him if she has the sympathy of a nation on her side, right? Ellen vanOss advises Lainie against it; she should put her trust in the “experts.”

Wells himself tells us what’s happening through a set of monologues under the guise of letters he wishes he could send his wife. From time to time, the two of them seemingly connect through their imaginations and their thorough understanding of each other. And we, too, come to an understanding of them.

All of which makes the final tragedy more infuriating.

Joe Hilsee turns in another good performance as Michael Wells. He brings a tangible sense to his descriptions of his whereabouts and captors (whom we never see, appropriately). Also, Hilsee lends Wells a sense of humor and charm. We like this guy, shaking our collective head over the “why” of his imprisonment. As Wells’ wife, ornithologist Lainie Wells, Elizabeth Kollings is convincing. Her frustration and outrage become ours as well. My only problem with Kollings was that occasionally she was too quiet. A small problem.

The hairdo and diplomat suit/dress Betty Burns sports as State Department envoy Ellen vanOss, as well as Burns’ own features, suggested former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Burns brings a lot of subtlety to her role, implying both genuine concern as well as a dark undercurrent of bureaucratic business-as-usual. As reporter Walker Harriss, Matthew Brown is adequate.

The set is appropriately sparse, consisting mostly of three gray disconnected flats, the middle one serving as a screen for the slide projections. Costumes are believable. Director Hugh Brashear has inspired good work from his cast. It is difficult not to be moved to anger over the machinations of one’s government and the self-serving manipulations of the media as depicted in this production.

And sometimes anger is not a bad thing.