Good lucking trying to make sense out of – or at least sit through – all two hours of Tennessee Williams’ rarely-seen The Two-Character Play, which is now receiving an Off-Broadway revival with the much-accomplished actress Amanda Plummer and Brad Dourif, who is probably best known for playing Billy Bibbit in the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
The Two-Character Play is essentially a revised version of Williams’ Out Cry, which ran just over a week on Broadway in 1973. It marked an attempt by Williams to eschew the naturalism and southern settings that had made him famous and experiment with the challenging styles of avant-garde dramatists that had come into vogue.
Williams himself apparently adored The Two-Character Play, referring to it as his “best play since Cat on a Hot Tin Roof … maybe better,” “my most beautiful play since Streetcar" and his “most personal play, a cri de coeur.” But as anyone even remotely familiar with the later portion of Williams’ life knows, it was plagued by drug use, hospitalizations, depression and alcohol. As such, can we really trust his judgment?
Somewhat inspired by Williams’ own relationship with his sister, who was lobotomized and confined to an institution, it concerns Felice and Clare, very strange siblings who find themselves deserted by their acting company and stranded in an empty theater.
Out of apparent concern that an audience will expect a show, they enact a drama that seems to reflect their own situation. Besides the occasional use of accents, it is difficult to tell when the play-within-the-play is being performed as opposed to its outer framework.
While it is impressive that the show managed to officially open as scheduled, since numerous preview performances were cancelled due to a knee injury sustained by Plummer, the fact remains that this is a dreary, downright incomprehensible work that lacks the drama of Williams’ earlier works and feels like an attempt to imitate Beckett, Pinter and Pirandello.
To their credit, Plummer and Dourif come off as genuinely creepy, and Plummer’s jittery, scared persona can be quite compelling. However, the production itself, which takes place on a stage overstuffed with stock scenery and features little movement or lighting, is not strong or coherent enough to make attending this frustrating, static drama worthwhile. It also doesn’t help that it is being performed at a particularly narrow space at New World Stages.