Sunday, May 15, 2016

THE TWO CHARACTER PLAY • The Midnight Company

“The Two Character Play,” one of the many offerings during this year’s inaugural Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis, is one of Williams’s later works, and performed in The Learning Center on Westminster Place, formerly known as the Wednesday Club. In the late 1930’s, the Wednesday Club's stage was the home of the Mummers of St. Louis theatre troupe, where a few of Tennessee’s early plays were debuted. It’s poignantly fitting that this play is performed in this creaky old house, where Williams found his beginnings.

Felice (Joe Hanrahan) and Clare (Michelle Hand) are siblings and actors, preparing to perform one of Felice’s own works to, possibly, an audience, in a run-down theatre in a nowhere town. Abandoned by their company, with no home except for the theatre, it doesn’t take long to see signs of damage between these two. Their ex-colleagues called them “insane.” After Felice goes through what seems like a long-practiced ritual of preparing his sister for a performance, the play-within-the-play begins -- about a dysfunctional brother and sister, no less. In the play’s play, the siblings are survivors of a shared childhood trauma that leaves them constantly on a precipice, where the prospect of just leaving their house brings on a burden of apprehension. In some of the humorous moments that are sprinkled throughout, their characters’ lines are forgotten and improvised, and aside from a southern dialect put on for the “performance,” the line between the characters’ plight and the actors’ realities is razor thin to the point of invisibility, with looming shadows left by a confined, stress, drug, and alcohol-addled existence.

Clare (Michelle Hand).
Photo credit: Ride Hamilton
Experimental for its time and 20-plus years after Tennessee Williams's better known works, “The Two Character Play,” earlier known as “Out Cry,” is considered another one of his highly personal compositions, and it couldn’t be in better hands than those of Hanrahan and Hand. With tone perfect direction by Sarah Whitney, these two bring out the strands of humor balanced with the weight of heavier notes, where the lines of “laughing at” and “laughing with” are successfully, clearly, and uncomfortably drawn. Mark Wilson’s scenic design is authentically appointed with a random feel that suits the play. Wilson also contributes an evocative lighting design, with sound design by Jimmy Bernatowicz and costume design by Liz Henning.

Don’t look for a neat bow at the end of this one, but do enjoy top-notch performances in a properly worn space uniquely tied to its playwright. And do it soon -- the Festival (sadly) ends today (Sunday). 3pm performance, so get your tickets this very minute!

Clare (Michelle Hand) and Felice (Joe Hanrahan).
Photo credit: Ride Hamilton
*UPDATE*
The Midnight Company will extend the run of its production of THE TWO-CHARACTER PLAY, which just played Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis.
May 27 & 28, and June 3 & 4, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm
Winter Opera St. Louis, 2322 Marconi, 63110, on The Hill 
Tickets $15 through BrownPaperTickets.com

Seating Very Limited Reservations Strongly Recommended


THE TWO CHARACTER PLAY

Written by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Sarah Whitney
The Learning Center (Formerly the Wednesday Club), 4504 Westminster Place (*Winter Opera St. Louis, 2322 Marconi, 63110, on The Hill)
through May 15 (*extended to June 4) | tickets: $23.50 (*$15)
Performances Friday at 8pm, Saturday and Sunday at 3pm

Cast
Felice: Joe Hanrahan
Clare: Michelle Hand

Creative
Scenic and Lighting Designer: Mark Wilson
Stage Manager and Costume Designer: Liz Henning
Sound Designer and Assistant Stage Manager: Jimmy Bernatowicz

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