The Two-Character Play

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The Two-Character Play
Written by Tennessee Williams
Characters Claire
Date premiered August 14, 1975 (1975-08-14)
Place premiered Quaigh Theatre
New York City
Original language English

The Two Character Play, also known as Out Cry in one of its alternate versions, is a play by Tennessee Williams written 25 years after his famous A Streetcar Named Desire. It was one of his most personal works; Williams spent almost ten years writing and rewriting it.


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.[1])

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 play was first produced in San Francisco before it moved to Broadway.[2][3]

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.[4]

The play was produced at London's Jermyn Street Theatre in October 2010.[5] The production starred Catherine Cusack and Paul McEwan, and was directed by the then-Artistic Director of the theater, Gene David Kirk.

In May, 2011, Off-Broadway's Classic Stage Company (CSC) presented a one-night-only staged reading with Tony Award winner Alan Cumming and Tony nominee Jessica Hecht.[6]

The Two-Character Play opened Off Broadway to critical acclaim[7] on June 19, 2013 at New World Stages. The production starred Tony Award winner Amanda Plummer and Oscar Nominee Brad Dourif.[8]

The play was produced as a senior directorial at The College of William and Mary in October 2013.

In that same month, it will also be produced by Spooky Action Theater - website in Washington, D.C. It will run from Oct. 3 to Oct. 27, 2013 and will star David Bryan Jackson and Helen Hayes Award winner Lee Mikeska Gardner, directed by Richard Henrich.[9]

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.

Reviewing a production by CIVIC REP in Seattle in July 2015, Thomas May writes than in The Two-Character Play "Williams crafts a mise en abyme of identity, framing this piece of metatheater as a metatheatrical reflection." [10]


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