The Two-Character Play is difficult but rewarding, now on stage in Toronto
The Two-Character Play is such a play — so metatheatrical, so self-referential, so muddy and grey and inclined to squint at its audience — that it almost defies description. In simple terms, your reading of its plot and message will depend heavily upon what you bring to the performance.
But there are, unquestionably, two siblings riven equally by trauma and folie à deux. There is a play within the play, and there is a hostile world from which the only escape is a two-storey house with veritable blockades of sunflowers. The rest, gentle reader, is up to you.
Tennessee Williams’ script was a ten-year labour of frustration, never perfect enough to premiere. When it opened, audiences found it too earthy and oblique: the people wanted escapism, not experimental glimpses into borderline personalities. But if you can ride this bull — if you can find a sweet spot and get your hooks into it — you’ll find a rewarding exploration of isolation, madness and trauma, and how these three tend to be correlated and comorbid.
Stylistically, it reminded me of the stories children invent to spice up their lives; it reminded me of The Shaggs, and a boatload of other outsider artists; it reminded me of the Silent Twins; and it reminded me of the thousand and one times people in my own life have made narrative deals with the universe to defend against one misfortune or another: if only, if just, just one, give up, maybe then.
Matt Pilipiak and Nicole Wilson play the siblings, and what’s most remarkable about these performances is how understated they are. Director Amy Keating has both of them keep their powder dry, deliberately underplaying certain moments in order to really pop off when the time is right. Hamminess makes and wrecks this kind of show: Keating nails it.
Lindsay Dagger Junkin’s set is cluttered and sparse, befitting a theatrical company composed of two hoarders, and her lighting — lamps and shades on the stage, floodlights over the audience — is a special treat, setting up several neat effects which can’t be described without spoiling them.
This show is not a crowd-pleaser. It’s a ponderous piece with some stellar performances which are enjoyable enough on their own merits — but it’s difficult at times, its structure and content are challenging to the audience, and finding meaning within its walls (within walls, within walls…) requires putting something of yourself in the middle. If you’ve got sympathy for a piece of this character, if you’re open to that kind of scrying, and if you’re prepared to ride out the bumps and scratches, you’ll find this a rewarding way to spend an evening.
- The Two-Character Play runs through February 28th 2016 at the Tarragon Theatre Workspace. (30 Bridgman Ave., near Bathurst and Dupont)
- Performance times vary, see website.
- Tickets are $25, $20 for arts workers.
- Tickets can be purchased online or in-person from the venue box office.
- The venue is wheelchair-accessible, but anyone requiring accessible seating is strongly advised to contact the venue well in advance to make arrangements.
- This show has content and material which many adults will find difficult and disquieting. We do not recommend this production for anyone below the age of 16.
Photograph of Matt Pilipiak and Nicole Wilson by Jordan Probst.