Aside from performing in the play, you are also the artistic director of Diverse City Theater Company. What inspired you to select Two Rooms for this summer’s production?
A vital part of Diverse City Theater Company’s mandate is to explore socially relevant issues. In light of current tensions between the West and Arab world, we are re-examining friction from the recent past and asking the question, ‘how far have we progressed in the span of nearly 25 years?’ This play is powerful, compelling, and relevant.
What is the theme of the play?
The play touches on nations and religious factions in conflict, the media’s coverage, and the American government’s involvement in the Middle East.
But, to me, the theme of the play—on the human level—is about people who are forced to confront different perspectives. We oftentimes have a myopic view of the world. But, if we allow ourselves to see things through another person’s perspective or imagine ourselves in someone else’s difficult situation, we will find that we are capable of understanding and rising above conflicts and circumstances. Truth is complicated.
How and why might this play be controversial?
Because the play explores what it means to be an American at war on foreign soil. And the complicated position America has undertaken as a “peacekeeper” of nations.
How does the play relate to what is going on in the world today?
As I write this, there is a meeting between our Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, in Geneva with leaders from Western and Arab nations as an 11th-hour effort to revive the stalled peace effort in Syria. I believe it is relevant.
What are the challenges inherent in playing the role of the reporter in this play?
The challenge is perhaps not playing the stereotype or an idea of the character as someone who is selfish, self-serving, and constantly on a mission to attack and publish. Our job is to inject flesh and blood into these characters … to humanize them.
What is brilliant about Lee Blessing’s characters, specifically the reporter, Walker, is his insatiable curiosity about the world and the global events affecting lives of the innocent. He has an unshakeable belief that he must give a voice to the unheard. He is an idealist who believes in holding people and establishments accountable for their actions. To him, American taxpayers have the right to question his government. He is ambitious, indeed. But he is also driven by a passion for telling the truth. But, he learns along the way that it is challenging to report the truth. And that truth is deeply complicated because there are many people and groups trying to manipulate the truth.
Do you feel that the implications in the play about the government’s policy and their lack of ability in some cases to get hostages back safely are valid? How does this influence the way you relate to your character?
None of us truly knows about the details of the government policy except those who were involved in the recovery missions. What we do know is that a tremendous amount of power-plays are at work especially in a location such as the Middle East. Which is why something as apparently straightforward as saving a civilian from a military group is so much more divisive.
This play was based on the mid-80’s Lebanon hostage crisis. Mr. Blessing, the playwright, wrote about a very specific event involving one specific character, Michael Wells. One can surmise that Michael is a composite character inspired by some of the prominent American hostages such as David Dodge, Terry Anderson, William Francis Buckley. History shows that from 1982 to 1992, there were, in fact, 96 hostages that were taken in Beirut, Lebanon. Most were Americans or Western Europeans.
This informs and helps me a great deal in crafting a rich history for Walker, the character I play in Two Rooms.
Do you think that the play is anti-American in its presentation of the American government?
No. There is nothing anti-American or anti-government about telling the truth. Our Constitution says so. Would you think it is anti-American to ask why George W. Bush, the Senate and the House, Halliburton, and others who influenced both our policy and our financial ability to go to war were not held accountable? Is it Anti-American to question America’s involvement in the Middle East? Is it Un-American to question the trillion dollar spending decisions made to fund a war built on emotion and little else?
No ... to question, to learn and to become aware—that is American. That is the very essence of Walker. He is prepared to ask those questions, regardless of whether or not he likes the answer, because he firmly believes that the public has a right to know the truth.
How does the play reflect the past and present Middle East situation and the United States' handling of hostages taken overseas?
There were so many forces involved in the civil war in the middle east—religious groups, political terrorist groups, occupational forces, peacekeeping forces. This doesn’t count the influence of outside countries supporting or refusing to support local entities militarily or financially. And once ‘peace’ was attained, what remained was a very chaotic situation. The continued involvement of Western countries as peacekeepers—including the US, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom—has done little but to continue to endanger the civilians. Just like the characters, Michael Wells and Jim Mathison, in the play. We—the civilians—were being punished because our country got involved in the multinational peacekeeping mission.
Almost 40 years later, the conflicts still exist. Americans and others—mostly civilians themselves—are still getting kidnapped.
What impact do you hope this play will have on its audience?
We are in the most polarized time of our nation since the civil war. And because it is such a polarized period, there is a greater need to be more informed.
I hope that audiences will be inspired to be more aware of global events both past and present, to become more involved with and aware of our government, and to perform due diligence on candidates before we elect them. These are the individuals and politicians who are ultimately charged to legislate. Legislations that affect our lives, our progress and our race.