This was the first play I wrote after A Walk in the Woods. As with that play, I went shopping on the front page of all the papers. I was consciously trying to find an issue that concerned as many of us as possible. The issue of westerners being kidnapped in Lebanon was getting a great deal of attention back then, especially since our government’s stated position was not to negotiate. A lot of people were learning for the first time that our government is all too ready to cut us loose if we get into trouble in the wrong country at the wrong moment.
How did your interest in political theater develop?
I think all theater is political. It’s just that some plays are a little more conscious of it than others. It seems a curiously American point of view to think that there is a “private” life that is completely divorceable from a “public” one. Everything we eat is the product of a political system. The worth of our houses turns out to be a very volatile product of a political system. The clothes on our back, the gas in our cars—it’s ubiquitous. Everything we do, think or say is done in the context of a political system. Political battles are fought in every sphere of our lives: cultural, business, aesthetic, religious, filial, romantic—you name it. Even choosing to ignore politics completely is, at base, an intensely political decision. Once a society has at least three members (perhaps only two) politics is born. This is the sadness and I suppose the majesty of politics. Who can imagine the Garden of Eden without a serpent?
What do you feel the differences are in the Middle East situation since you originally wrote the play?
The reason the play continues to feel relevant is that the problems in that part of the world are so chronic. While “hot spots” continue to shift and revolve, the reasons they’re hot remain largely the same. I suppose the Arab Spring is a new and potentially powerful development, but much remains to be seen as to how that will affect things in the long run. A decade of direct American military involvement also has been a big change—though of course in Iraq and Afghanistan any clear results are far from guaranteed. I’ve found that contemporary audiences have no trouble “plugging in” our current struggles for those in the play. The dynamics of political kidnapping remain the same, as do political posturing, secret dealing, murder for political gain, etc. It’s still the same picture puzzle, even if we’ve cut up the pieces in different ways.
What was your biggest challenge while writing the play? Would those challenges be the same if you were to write the play in 2012?
The biggest challenge was finding a metaphor for the hostage-taking crisis that would allow me to focus on Lainie’s struggle. Her solution (turning Michael’s office into a version of the sort of room where he’s presumably being held) is what allows us into the play emotionally. And yes, that challenge is the same for every play, in a way. No play gets inside us that hasn’t first provided a door—preferably a magic one—that we ourselves can enter.
What impact do you hope the play makes on audiences today compared to when you first wrote it?
Again, since so little in the Middle East has changed, I’d hope that contemporary spectators would have emotions similar to those experienced by the play’s first audiences. We tend to trust institutions even less than we did then, so perhaps today’s audiences won’t be quite so stunned by governmental indifference to the plight of American citizens in this sort of situation. And the love story’s a love story, of course. Those never lose their impact on us.
Do you feel that 20 years from now Two Rooms will still be as relevant as it is today?
I hope it’s not, because that would mean that little progress will have been made on these issues—or that things will have worsened sharply. It’s odd, though. My play A Walk in the Woods continues to feel relevant to audiences long after the breakup of the Soviet Union. That may be because it’s very hard to “uninvent” nuclear warfare. I think if a political play is well written, the politics of the moment to which it’s tied don’t always determine its “shelf life”. No one cares about the Thirty Years’ War, but we keep producing Mother Courage. And the Crucible is still Arthur Miller’s most-produced play.
Lee Blessing is an American playwright best known for his play, A Walk in the Woods, produced on Broadway and the West end, for which he earned a Pulitzer Prize as well as a Tony Award nomination. His Off-Broadway productions include A Body Of Water at Primary Stages; Going To St. Ives at Primary Stages (Outer Critic’s Circle Award for Best Play; Obie Award for Ensemble Performance); Thief River at Signature Theatre (Drama Desk nomination, Best Play); Cobb at Lucille Lortel Theatre (Drama Desk award, Best Ensemble); Chesapeake at New York Stage and Film at Second Stage; Eleemosynary at Manhattan Theatre Company, and Down The Road at Weissberger Group at the Atlantic Theatre. The Signature Theatre dedicated its 1992-1993 season to his work, consisting of Fortinbras, Lake Street Extension, Two Rooms, and the world premiere of Patient A. He served as Head of the graduate playwriting program at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University.
Divere City Theater Company’s production of his play, TWO ROOMS directed by Jamie Richards, runs until Friday, August 24th @ 8PM at Theatre Row’s The Lion Theater located at 410 West 42nd Street in New York City. Features Curran Connor, Dawn Evans, Victor Lirio and Bree Michael Warner. Tickets are $19.25 and can be purchased via Telecharge.com or 212-239-6200.