by Lynn on February 23, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Tarragon Theatre Workspace, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Amy Keating
Designed by Linsday Dagger-Junkin
Cast: Matt Pilipiak
Nicole Wilson.

A bold company is producing this little-known play by Tennessee Williams, directed by a first time director. Now that takes guts. Very interesting results.

The Story. Felice and Clare are brother and sister. They are both actors and he writes the plays. They also might be a bit unhinged, fragile-minded, “committable”? They have been abandoned by their acting company because the company got fed up with not being paid. Now the siblings decide to do the play themselves. Much of it seems to be a melding of their real life and their imaginary one. They cannot leave the building. They do not know how to leave the stage or the theatre. They are afraid. They bicker. They rehash old wound and news. Their father might have killed their mother and then himself. Now the authorities want to have the siblings taken away to somewhere safe. They contrive to escape that fate.

The Production. The production takes place in the Tarragon Theatre Workspace, a new site that used to be one of the rehearsal halls, and is now a theatre space for hire. The play is seen from the chaotic backstage of the theatre where Felice and Clare are to perform their play. Props are all over the place. There are frames of where sets are supposed to be. An upstage door well can be the border of the stage of the play and the ‘backstage’, or it can be both the real and imagined world of the siblings. It’s always interesting to see where they are both in the play and in their lives.

Felice writes furiously in his little notebook, as the audience enters the space. He is also listening to opera. His nervous, skittish sister Clare hurries in from ‘outside’ half-dressed, in a house-coat of sorts, her slip showing underneath bunched up in one spot. Her hair is dishevelled. Both Matt Pilipiak as Felice and Nicole Wilson as Clare are of the moment no matter if that moment might be in reality or not. Pilipiak is hyper, energetic, and perhaps the one trying to guide Clare towards the play and not veer off into her own world. As Clare, Nicole Wilson is more fragile minded than her brother, but has her own finesse when trying to get her brother to give in to her fancy and whims. There is a real cohesiveness to their performances—timing is everything, especially when playing two crazed characters, and their timing is impeccable.

Comment. Tennessee Williams wrote The Two-Character Play when he was on a downward spiral. He says: “I wrote it when I was approaching a mental breakdown and rewrote it (under the title Out Cry) after my alleged recovery.” The Two-Character Play had its first production in London in 1967 where it was a failure. It opened in New York in 1971 as Out Cry and only ran a week. The downward spiral of the siblings in the play mirrors what was happening to Williams in his real life.

There are spurts of Williams’ poetic turns of phrase. But there is also an esoteric quality to the writing. What is real here? Are the siblings crazy? They sometimes talk in a code that only the other recognizes. They philosophise—again, perhaps they are the only two who know what the other is talking about. But it is Tennessee Williams and it’s easy to dismiss because it’s not one of this better plays. No matter, attention must be paid to him.

The Two-Character Play is a devilishly difficult play. What is real for these siblings? What is imagined? Made up? And one has to be either brave of bonkers to want to produce it. Enter Good Old Neon Company who I think are a bit of both to want to produce The Two-Character Play. And it’s directed by first-time director, Amy Keating. Keating is a fearless actor in her ‘other’ life, and she is confident and in command as the director of this challenging play. This is a dandy collaboration. The result is compelling.

Produced by Good Old Neon

Opened: Feb. 17, 2016.
Closed: Feb. 28, 2016.
Cast: 2; 1 man, 1 woman
Running Time: 2 hours approx.

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