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It's a Blessing

Arab terrorism figures prominently in Lee Blessing's 12-year-old play Two Rooms, now at the Blue Heron Theatre. logo

Thomas James O'Leary and Monica Koskey in Two Rooms
Could there be a more appropriate time to mount a production of Lee Blessing's Two Rooms, a play about an American taken hostage by Arab terrorists? Of course, the play was timely even when this current production was first planned months ago, given the escalation of violence in the Middle East over the last year. And it was equally timely in 1987, when Blessing first sat down to write it as Americans and Europeans waited to find out if Terry Anderson, John McCarthy, and other hostages would be released. The unfortunate fact is that a play like this is appropriate at almost any time; it seems that the Middle East is forever embroiled in conflict, and other nations around the world--if only peripherally--along with it.

Part of Blessing's aim in writing Two Rooms was to move Americans out of the periphery, which the events of September 11 have done in a significant way. "We have tended, or tended before September 11, to think that we were able to become interested or disinterested in these sorts of geopolitical issues at our pleasure," explains Blessing. "And that's really not the way it is in the world."

According to Blessing, "This play was written about what was very current at the time: Americans and West Europeans getting kidnapped in Beirut and held for a period of time." When he was commissioned to write Two Rooms in 1987. Blessing found himself drawn to the headlines of the day for inspiration. "I was looking around for something that was preying on our minds as Americans, something that people sort of didn't know what to do with emotionally but was nevertheless a huge part of their lives."

The two rooms in question are a tiny cell in Beirut where an American hostage is held and the room back home where his wife holds vigil, symbolically removing furniture and decorations so that she can commune with her husband. "She has gone through all of the ritual begging that people go through when one of their loved ones is kidnapped," says Blessing of the character Lainie, hostage Michael Wells' wife in the play. "They would meet with the powers that be in Syria, in Beirut itself, in London, in Washington, D.C. They would do that circuit and basically be told that there's an impasse, not much can be done, you just have to wait. The play is about what you do when you wait."

Though the Wells character isn't based on any one hostage in particular, Blessing did draw on the real life dramas of the many who were taken around that time in writing his play. "I did a lot of research on the experiences of various people who were kidnapped," he says. "Most of the things that happen to this fictional American did happen to one or more Americans when they were being held."

Lee Blessing
Following its premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse in 1988, Two Rooms has been produced extensively throughout the country and is now being presented by the often socio-politically minded Blue Heron Theatre. "I have been to rehearsals," says Blessing, who has been participating "on the sidelines" of this production. "I've sat and talked with the director, Roger Danforth, about the play. I like the company very much; I'm pleased with what's going on."

Although everyday life has changed drastically since the terrorist attacks of September 11, Blessing feels that Two Rooms still resonates: The taking of hostages is, after all, just a different kind of terrorism. "I think, in terms of what's been going on in the city and in the world now, that the play is extremely topical," he says. "It's all about the politics of the region at the time and the American relationship to the Islamic world. The faces were different then, but some of the fundamental issues are similar.

"So many of these issues still haven't really been dealt with," Blessing continues. "The play is about two people who are caught up in the larger issue. Even though they had been living and working in Beirut, somehow it didn't really touch them...until it did."

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