Bridge Theatre Autumn 2019
For the second time
this month (The first was Hansard) I have to report on a
not-very-good play that is a good vehicle for two very good actors.
If you see and enjoy Two
Ladies, it will be because of the talent,
skill and star quality of Zoe Wanamaker and Zrinka Cvitesic, not the
characters they play or the story they're in.
It won't be hard to
focus on the two stars, since they're onstage throughout and
generally without anyone else. But it is them you'll be watching, not
Wanamaker and Cvitesic
play the wives of two
Presidents, shunted off into a side room while their husbands are in
(Those with very long
memories and a penchant for bad
plays may be reminded of Robert David MacDonald's 1982 Summit
Conference, about the mistresses of Hitler and Mussolini killing time
while their men planned killings.)
Here, playwright Nancy
deliberately keeps some details vague. One President is evidently
from what was the Soviet zone while there are conflicting hints
connecting the other at various moments to the UK, the USA or France.
The Eastern country has
been hit by terrorists and wants to go to war
against the (presumably Middle Eastern) country believed to support
the terrorists, and the meeting is to determine if the other will
But that offstage drama
is actually just a
McGuffin, an excuse to get these two women into the same room.
Wanamaker's character is
a Hillary Clinton figure, an older woman
very involved in her husband's Presidency, while Cvitesic's is a
former model and trophy wife trotted out for photo opportunities and
otherwise generally ignored by her husband.
The two women cautiously
chat, then debate politics, then get catty, then try to manipulate
each other, then bare their souls, then bond in disgust at the mess
that men have made of the world. Because that – not politics or
war, but feminist anger – is ultimately what the plays is about.
But of course you won't
care. There are undoubtedly excellent plays
already written or waiting to be written about feminist anger, the
bonding of women who seem to have little in common, or the
realisation by powerful women that men still hold more power than
they. But this isn't one of them.
The basic question of
any play is
'Why are these people in this room?' and playwright Harris is
particularly weak in establishing and maintaining the fictional
Aides and security
people occasionally enter the room to
give one reason or another why the First Ladies can't leave, but none
are really convincing. Wanamaker's character repeatedly displays her
cell phone and threatens to use it to contact her husband or the
outside world, but doesn't.
The emotional swings
between the two
women, jumping from cool politeness to catty personal attacks to
sharing of deep personal stories to suicidal despair to bonding and
determination to act, are too obviously the manipulations of the
author rather than anything growing out of the characters.
Typical of Harris's ill-thought-through dramaturgy is that at one point the women are tempted to an extreme symbolic act of defiance, but in a situation in which the symbolic intention of their action would certainly be misunderstood.
(I'm being deliberately
vague to avoid a
spoiler, but essentially the world would believe they did it for a
plot reason different from their symbolic intention.)
If we can't
really believe the situation, the plot turns or the characters, we
can appreciate and enjoy the performances. Zoe Wanamaker signals
'powerful woman' just by the way she stands and walks, and she is a
master at the sly and destructive throw-away zinger.
Cvitesic has the
actor's dream challenge of giving us one impression at the start and
then surprising us with how wrong that was, as she shows the
seemingly mindless bimbo to be more clever, devious and determined
than we thought.
You won't believe the situation the two characters are in, the ease with which they go from indifference to nastiness to bonding, the rather predictable deep dark secrets they share or, particularly, the decisions for action they take near the end of the play.
But if you ignore all that and just watch the two actresses displaying their talent and craft, you can enjoy Two Ladies.
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Review - Two Ladies - Bridge Theatre 2019