We Are All Responsible 

Two Rooms' take on the Mideast conflict is evenhanded and emotional.

Like everyone I've talked to lately about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I am sick at heart. It is so painful, especially as an American Jew, to witness the tragedy and understand that as long as I stand by, doing and saying nothing, I am complicit. It is some comfort that so many people are struggling with the same sense of powerlessness. A similar feeling must have driven Venture Theatre Company's Andrea Gordon to pick up Lee Blessing's Two Rooms just after 9/11 and decide that it was time to stage this remarkably evenhanded depiction of the Mideast conflict. In Two Rooms, no one is spared responsibility -- from our government to the warring factions to Americans who choose to put themselves in harm's way.

Protagonist Michael Wells is an American professor working in Beirut. When he is kidnapped and held hostage by Shiite extremists, his wife Lainie does everything she can to secure his release, making the rounds of diplomats, bureaucrats, and ministers in the States, Lebanon, and Syria. Nothing seems to work, so she retreats to their Washington-area home, where she symbolically clears everything out of Michael's office to create the room in which she imagines him being held.

The action takes place in this room, delineated by a single rug and some understated light effects, and Michael's cell. Though other people move in and out of the two rooms through dreams, memories and imagined conversations, this story is first and foremost about the link between Michael and Lainie.

The issue of powerlessness is at the core of Two Rooms. Nobody seems to have any real agency: not filthy, handcuffed Michael who is beaten if he takes off his blindfold or even looks as if he might have tried to, not Lainie raging back in the States, not the State Department apparatchik who visits her every week to report that nothing is happening, and not the journalist who hopes to use the power of the press to make something, anything, happen. It's an especially vivid theme in light of the American can-do mentality -- our national conceit that we can do anything, be anyone, achieve any goal if we only persevere.

Kevin Karrick, who brought the play to director Gordon's attention, is tremendous as Michael Wells. He has the very first monologue -- Michael spends his days "writing" to his wife -- and sets the tone beautifully. "Lainie," he says wistfully after a rather jocular description of being beaten, "I wish this were a real letter." It's such a simple line, but Karrick delivers it with absolute precision. Where Michael is developing some sympathy for his captors and making a concerted effort to stay positive by cracking wise, Lainie (Word for Word director/actress Delia MacDougall) has been stripped bare of all pretense. Worn out by the promises and evasions of everyone who claims to be trying to help, Lainie is mostly dynamite and very little fuse. MacDougall brings Lainie's love and anger burning to the surface as she deals with prevaricating Ellen Van Oss (Wilma Bonet), the bureaucrat assigned to Michael's case, and hotheaded Walker Harris (Andy Laird), the journalist who would like nothing more than to write a multiple-part series focused on "the quietest of the hostages' wives."

The four actors, aided by a simple set design, bring this incredibly sad and thought-provoking story to heart-rending life. This weekend is the stunning show's last; by all means go if you want something meatier and better-rounded than the current media coverage has to offer.

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