Gregory Jones and Brooke Hardman
Gregory Jones as the niggling reporter who is put in his place by the hostage's wife, played by Brooke Hardman. Photos by Ralph Stewart

"Two Rooms" – different times, same issues

By Tony Omer - July 19, 2007

The current play at the Vineyard Playhouse is a bold production about a young couple caught up in a vortex of international terrorism and politics. It puts human faces and emotions on a political crisis from the 1980s that is eerily similar to our own time. For many of us, the only bright spot in the current political landscape is the inevitable end of the current administration in Washington. The mess at home and abroad has left us with a presidency that has the lowest public approval rating in generations. We seem to be hated worldwide by more than ever before. We are in a time of political crisis.

Peter Stray
Peter Stray as the hostage in the Vineyard Playhouse's current production of Lee Blessing's play "Two Rooms."

It is not unusual for The Vineyard Playhouse to present plays with culturally, socially, or politically redeeming values. In fact, it seems apparent to me that they make a point of staging meaningful and relevant plays every year. As a small summer vacation community we should feel lucky that this is the case. Theaters in many communities like ours fill their seasons with fluffy musicals and farces. Not that there isn't a place for that kind of thing, but the Playhouse has consistently helped raise the level of conversation with productions that deal unflinchingly with issues of race, gender, ethical and moral considerations, and politics. The current production is no exception. Lee Blessing's Two Rooms was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and was Time magazine's best play of 1988. It focuses on a young married couple, one an imprisoned man who is being held hostage under barely tolerable conditions in the Middle East and a woman, a biologist, who has been left hostage to the political and emotional forces created by her husband's imprisonment.

Brooke Hardman
Brooke Hardman.

In what must be an allusion to Jean-Paul Sartre's classic existential drama "No Exit," which takes place in one room, this play takes place in two rooms which are so similar in feel they could be the same room - one an actual prison, the other an apartment room made bare in an attempt to deal with the wife's anguished situation. Playhouse staffer and actress Brooke Hardman, married to Islander Brian Ditchfield, does a convincing job of portraying the swinging emotions of the wife as she attempts to deal with a horrible personal tragedy and the unrealizable expectations of a callus government and a manipulative press. She moves us from the brink of emotional meltdown to euphoric expectation with an unhurried and graceful style. The government agent is played with a cold bureaucratic intensity by local actress Sheryl Dagostino. The unrealistic but all too real proddings of the press at the hands of an alternating sympathetic then cold newsman played expertly by theater pro Gregory Jones highlight the emotional complexities of an impossible situation.

As the hostage, Welshman and playhouse veteran Peter Stray grinds out an excellent performance, bordering on the ethereal, that evokes our sympathy and leaves no doubt that his situation is that of a pawn in their game.

Steven Zablotny and crew, once again, have designed and constructed an intriguing set, simple and abstract, which sets the tone of the production.

Director Joann Green Breuer has assembled a superb cast and a fine show.

"Two Rooms" plays at The Vineyard Playhouse on Church Street in Vineyard Haven July 11 - July 28. Curtain times vary. There will be a special 3 pm matinee performance on Thursday, July 26, only. Tickets from $25 to $37.50.