“The Two-Character Play”, one of the first offerings from Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis, was written in 1973. It’s not one his more well-known works, coming later in his career as he was complaining that critics didn’t appreciate his style as he evolved. It is, in some ways, rather reminiscent of absurdist theater, things like “Waiting For Godot”, language and emotions flying, relevant information coming (and occasionally going) in bits and pieces in sometimes-odd places.
The Midnight Company brings it to us, putting it in the hands of two of St. Louis’ most accomplished actors, Joe Hanrahan and Michelle Hand. They play sibling actors, struggling with careers that reached “failing” status some time ago, partially due to alcohol and pills, but beyond that they seem pretty dysfunctional on their own. The show uses the play-within-a-play idea, and the characters in the play are also siblings who are not in a close relationship with reality. It’s hard to tell which pair are more whacked out, but it really makes no difference, the sliding back and forth from one reality to the other is part of the game. Both Hand and Hanrahan are both utterly superb. Neither character would appear not to call for much subtle work; there’s a lot of scenes with what in other plays might be called scenery-chewing. But Williams’ characters seem to almost inevitably bring over-the-top emotions. Despite the OTT, there’s a considerable amount of less obvious work on view in these characters. Director Sarah Whitney orchestrates things beautifully.
Mark Wilson’s sets and lighting are deeply evocative of an aging theater somewhere in the hinterlands. That seems particularly relevant here, since the venue is The Learning Center on Westminster at Taylor. In a building designed by Theodore Link, best known for St. Louis Union Station (and across the street from Second Presbyterian Church, another of Link’s works), it was originally the Wednesday Club. Built in 1908, several of Williams’ early works were staged there. One of the places his family lived – there were quite a few – was in the next block west.
It’s a remarkable setting from an historic stance, perhaps not the most comfortable auditorium, but the evening is a worthwhile one. See a later Williams work. See remarkable acting. See a singular venue.
The Two-Character Play
The Midnight Company
through May 15
The Learning Center