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A room without a view
AASU stages Lee Blessing's kidnapping drama Two Rooms
Josh Gilstrap and Chloe Kirby as Michael and Lainie in "Two Rooms." (Photo: Kat Arntzen)

Although he’s best known for the Pulitzer–nominated A Walk in the Woods, Lee Blessing is one of the most prolific playwrights of the last three decades. Three of his shows have been on Time magazine’s list of the year’s best.

Two Rooms, which the Masquers of Armstrong Atlantic State University are producing this weekend, was cited as the very best play of 1988.

It’s a drama torn from the headlines of yesterday, today and every day.

Michael Wells is an American teaching at a university in Beirut. When Two Rooms opens, he has been held captive by a militant group for three years; his cell is one of the titular spaces.

Across the ocean, Lainie Wells awaits her husband’s return, her faith growing dimmer as time passes. Yet she retains an unshakable bond with Michael.

Two Rooms is a four–character play; although Michael’s captors are never seen, Lainie is visited by a government representative and a prying journalist.

Through it all, Michael “speaks” to Lainie, via a series of imaginary letters performed as behind–bars monologues.

“My biggest thing was that I didn’t want it to come across that I’m making a political statement with this show,” explains Sariah McCall, a third–year theater student who’s making her directorial debut with Two Rooms. “Even though it has intense political scenes. I didn’t want it to be ‘The government’s doing a poor job,’ or ‘The media’s doing a poor job.’ I wanted it to be Lainie and Michael’s love story. Their biggest challenge, wanting each other so bad.”

For McCall, who grew up in Gwinnett County, directing Blessing’s show meant something specific.

“We did this show when I was in high school,” she says, “and I played one of the characters. And it’s why I decided to pursue my career in theater – so it’s very personal to me.”

The show’s themes of fear, alienation, distrust and global claustrophobia, McCall believes, are universal. “It’s sort of a dated subject, because obviously the Lebanese hostage crisis is over, but it still resonates so much with what’s going on in the world today, between here and the Middle East.”

With Josh Gilstrap as Michael and Chloe Kirby as Lainie, McCall’s take on Two Rooms uses Blessing’s original stage directions. Well, most of them.

“My Michael is onstage for the entire show,” McCall explains. “In the original script, with the original stage directions, he exits and enters. And I found that to be too much – the audience can disassociate with him, and not remember him. So my Michael’s onstage the whole show, so that they can’t forget about him.

“People are always going to be looking at him, without distracting from the action that’s going on in Lainie’s room.”

The AASU cast also includes Philip Newell as Walker Harris, the journalist, and Heather Dittman as the government flack named Ellen Van Oss (that’s the role director McCall played in her high school production).

It’s only as complex as the human emotions that are being literally and figuratively tortured and twisted, McCall says. “I think the way Lee Blessing wrote it is that you don’t have to know what was going on to understand the show. They go enough into the politics to explain it, but not enough that it’s purely a political show.”

“At the end, it doesn’t come out and say who’s at fault, who’s the bad guy. It’s just that all these people think they’re doing the right thing to get him home, but really no one knows exactly what that right thing is.”

Two Rooms

Where: Jenkins Hall Black Box, Armstrong Atlantic State University, 11935 Abercorn St.

When: At 7:30 p.m. Oct. 13–16

Tickets: $10 general admission; discounted tickets for military, seniors, alumni association members, and students/children. AASU staff, faculty and students free