The Two of Us, produced by Red Drapes Productions, was originally written by Croatian playwright Tena Stivicic and translated by members of the company. This Toronto Fringe production marks the North American premiere of the acclaimed play. The script is full of witty, sardonic one-liners and unique cultural allusions that speak to the strength of the script’s translation.
The story primarily revolves around the relationship between Anja and Lena, tracing their dynamic from a chance meeting at a nightclub, and following them over time as they become inseparable. Anja and Lena are both drifting through post-war life when they meet and find solace with each other while engaging in persistent substance use and navigating problematic love lives. As the two get closer, they realize that they are connected far more closely than they originally anticipated. In director Svjetlana Jaklenec’s words, the play is “…an ode to the resilience of those who go on” after unspeakable tragedy; namely the Yugoslav Wars.
Lena and Anja (Shannon Currie and Beatriz Yuste, respectively) are at the heart of the action, flanked by Lena’s overbearing mother Sonja (Deborah Grover) and acclaimed author Emil (John Blackwood). Many of the scenes involving Lena and Anja are shared in their homes, where the characters are presumably at their most vulnerable. Jaklenec’s staging centres Anja and Lena, and places Sonja and Emil as more nebulous figures.
The main set consists of two adjoining cluttered living rooms, which serves as a backdrop for scenes that take place in different settings. Lena’s apartment has unrepaired holes in the wall, presumably from gunfire. The disarray of their private lives, and the aftershocks of The Yugoslav Wars, loom over their lives at all times; Christine Urquhart’s set design effectively communicates this.
There are many aspects of this show that I liked “in spirit” but I felt disappointed by the production’s overall execution. The performance I saw was a preview, so possible this may change as the run progresses, but I just didn’t see it the night I was there. I appreciate the script’s centering on a friendship between women, and the staging and sets work to bolster its importance, but I felt the performance of this relationship simply went through the motions of hitting milestones and attaining intimacy.
I didn’t feel sincere chemistry between Yuste and Currie (Anja and Lena) and found it difficult to get to know the two characters as individuals or to feel invested in their relationship. Throughout the performance I kept wondering why they were getting so close. The relationship hits many emotional highs and lows, but these moments seem to come out of nowhere. It’s hard to tell if this is to do with the script, the actors’ performances, the direction, or some combination of the three.
Additionally, in demonstrating the passage of time and moments of significance, this play has a lot of short scenes followed by sudden scene changes. I found these persistent changes jarring and disruptive. While I acknowledge this may have far more to do with the script, I wonder if some of the production’s “flow” may have been maintained with smoother, more deliberate transitions aided by a more cohesive lighting design.
The above critiques I have for the show does not discount the elements that I quite liked: the script and translation work, the set, the sound design (by Emily Barraclough), and supporting performances from Glover and Blackwood.
- The Two of Us plays at the Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace. (16 Ryerson Ave.)
- Tickets are $13, including a $2 service charge. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes and discounts for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Festival Box Office at Scadding Court (707 Dundas St. W.), and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Content Warnings: Sexual content; Unsuitable for minors.
- This venue is wheelchair-accessible. Accessible seating is in the very front row.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- Friday July 6th, 1:45 pm
- Saturday July 7th, 9:15 pm
- Monday July 9th, 5:00 pm
- Wednesday July 11th, 3:30 pm
- Thursday July 12th, 8:45 pm
- Friday July 13th, 11:00 pm
- Saturday July 14th, 7:00 pm
Photo of Beatriz Yuste provided by the company
*Editors Note: Originaly this article neglected to mention this was a preview perfomance. This has been corrected.