The Two-Character Play
|The Two-Character Play|
|Written by||Tennessee Williams|
|Date premiered||December 1967|
|Place premiered||Hampstead Theatre
The Two Character Play (also known as Out Cry in one of its alternate versions) is an American play by Tennessee Williams, premiered in London at the Hampstead Theatre in December 1967. Williams himself had great affection for the play, and described it as follows:
- "My most beautiful play since Streetcar, the very heart of my life."
After winning critical and popular acclaim with his earlier plays, Williams wanted to experiment and expand his writing style. His later creations had more in common with playwrights Samuel Beckett and the emerging Harold Pinter, than with the name that Tennessee Williams had come to signify. Although the play is a marked departure from the naturalism of his classics, familiar themes permeate. Confinement due to mental illness, repression leading to social isolation and the tyranny and claustrophobia that comes from impinging on one another’s psychological and physical space, are all present in The Two-Character Play.
When the play premiered in its various forms, it was not well received by critics or audiences. At the time many audiences attended the theatre as a form of escapism. The Two-Character Play was the exact opposite. Clare and Felice, the actors, as well as the characters they play, cannot, no matter how hard they try to delude themselves, escape from the reality of their deteriorating mental states. Consequently, the viewers themselves are confronted with the darker truths of what it is to be human.
It was very experimental for its time. The language is heightened. There are slabs of verbosity juxtaposed with pauses and stunted sentences.
The Two-Character Play is partially autobiographical. The actor Clare and especially the character Clare, are loosely based on Williams’ sister Rose, and the actor Felice and the character Felice, on Williams himself. The "confining nature of human existence" was a major theme throughout his work and this play is seen to be his most personal interpretation.
It took Williams over ten years to write The Two-Character Play, longer than any other play, and illustrates an innovation in his writing style.
The characters in this play, Felice and Clare, are two actors on tour; they are also brother and sister. They find themselves deserted by their acting troupe in a decrepit "state theatre in an unknown state". Faced (perhaps) by an audience expecting a performance, they enact The Two-Character Play – an illusion within an illusion, an 'out cry' from isolation, panic, and fear. (Out Cry was the title of one version of this play, which premiered at the Ivanhoe Theatre in Chicago in July 1971. Out Cry later premiered on Broadway, directed by Peter Glenville and co-starring Michael York and Cara Duff-MacCormick, and which ran from March 1–10, 1973 at the Lyceum Theater after one preview on February 28.)
The plot is confusing and difficult to follow, with little sense of a resolution. The Two-Character Play has a concurrent double plot with the convention of a play within a play scenario. The characters of Clare and Felice are psychologically damaged from witnessing the traumatic murder/suicide of their parents. They have remained recluses in the family home since the incident and are attempting to make hesitant contact with the outside world. As the actors dip in and out of performance, improvising parts not memorised or not yet written, it becomes increasingly difficult to differentiate the actors from the characters and reality from illusion.
The London premiere featured Peter Wyngarde and Mary Ure, and its director was James Roose-Evans. Williams then revised the play, and the revised version, under the title of Out Cry, received its first performance in Chicago with Donald Madden and Eileen Herlie.
A 30th Anniversary production was staged in Australia in 2005 at the University of Melbourne with siblings Stephen Ryan and Sarah Ryan playing the roles of Felice and Clare. For his performance as Felice, Stephen Ryan won the Murray Sutherland Prize for the most outstanding performance in a dramatic production at the University of Melbourne. San Francisco's Theatre Rhinoceros staged the show in January 2012.
The play was produced at London's Jermyn Street Theatre in October 2010. The production starred Catherine Cusack and Paul McEwan, and was directed by the then-Artistic Director of the theater, Gene David Kirk.
The play was produced as a senior directorial at The College of William and Mary in October 2013. In October 2013, Spooky Action Theater produced the play, with David Bryan Jackson and Lee Mikeska Gardner, directed by Richard Henrich.
In March 2014, the 292 Theatre on East 3rd Street in New York City mounted a production of The Two-Character Play which ran from March 19 through April 26, directed by Romy Ashby, and starring husband and wife Charles Schick and Regina Bartkoff.
- Kolin, Philip C (editor), Tennessee Williams: A Guide to Research and Performance. Greenwood Press (Westport, Connecticut, USA), 1998 (ISBN 0-313-30306-1), p 180.
- "Williams Drama Baffles Critics". New York Times. 1967-12-13. Retrieved 2016-05-25.
- Dominic Cavendish (2010-10-29). "The Two-Character Play, Jermyn Street Theatre, London, review". Telegraph. Retrieved 2016-05-25.
- Saddik, Annette J, Tennessee Williams and the Theatre of Excess. Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, UK), 2015 (ISBN 978-1-107-07668-6), p 17.
- Lawrence van Gelder (1975-08-22). "Stage: Williams' '2 Character Play'". New York Times. Retrieved 2016-05-28.
- Ben Brantley (2013-06-21). "Brother, Can You Spare My Sanity? Amanda Plummer and Brad Dourif in Tennessee Williams Rarity". New York Times. Retrieved 2016-05-25.
- Jessica Goldstein (2013-10-01). "Two-Character Play benefits from actors' shared history". Washington Post. Retrieved 2016-05-25.