The fireworks between the unnamed characters begin almost as soon as theatergoers (a mere 14 at each performance) encounter them. Clad only in his boxers, he sits in bed twitching, cradling a bottle of bourbon and puffing nervously on a cigar. There are two sources for his agitation. First, his bride's body is covered in bruises and scratches and he wants to know what has caused them. Secondly, he is about to be shipped out for another tour of duty in Waakow, where he has encountered the horrors of war firsthand.
The violent cat-and-mouse game that unfolds between the two, as he attempts to learn the truth about his wife's activities and she attempts to deflect his inquiries, has an incredible immediacy given the claustrophobic nature of the actual hotel room being used for the performance. The tight confines of the space mean that there's little margin for artifice in the two performances, and Couperthwaite and Markey navigate Williams' tautly strung and teasingly ambiguous work with dedicated fearlessness.
Not only are they willing to embrace the physically brutal way in which the couple assail one another, they also uncover the kind of teenage puppy dog love that might have inspired the two to marry in the first place. A battle over his wallet when she wants five dollars for the sightseeing trip that she wants to take in the Garden District nearly devolves into a pre-pubescent pillow fight that might be had between two pre-teen siblings.
The crispness of the performers' work also extends to quieter and less impassioned moments. Markey is perhaps most interesting just after the wife has learned that she will not be receiving her husband's army paycheck because he will be sending it to his mother. A dullness creeps into her normally bright and fiery eyes as she realizes that the assumptions she's made about being supported become false and then, they relight as a fresh burst of fury courses through her, leading to the play's savage conclusion.
Couperthwaite proves equally compelling and his work is perhaps most exemplary during a brief sequence when the man stares at his bride with a sincere joy and almost unbridled love.
Equally impressive are Derek Wright's lighting design and the bombastic soundscape that's been created by Duncan Cutler with Chamberlain. Both elements bring the man's memory of his time in country into the room with force, expressionistic additions to Williams' naturalistic script (as is the camouflage material that drapes the walls of the room and the tiger-on-velvet painting that hangs above the bed). And while these embellishments do not necessarily illuminate the murkier corners of the couple's relationship, they never detract from the power of the acting on hand.
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