"Two"

Derdriu Ring and David Peacock

Pubs are great places to set a play.

The instantaneous comradery among strangers and the social lubrication of alcohol create ample opportunity for dialogue. The confessionary function of the barkeep produces revealing self-disclosure. And an assortment of down-on-their-luck denizens can generate plenty of personal tragedy.

J.M. Synge (“The Playboy of the Western World”), Martin McDonagh (“Hangmen”), Conor McPherson (“The Weir”) and so many other playwrights have taken advantage of this setting to stage their dramas. It could even be argued that one of the most monumentally depressing and theatrically engaging places in all of theater is Harry Hope’s Saloon, where Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh” takes place. “It’s the No Chance Saloon,” one character says of this lower Manhattan establishment on the Hudson River waterfront. “It’s Bedrock Bar, the End of the Line Café… the last harbor. No one here has to worry about where they’re going next, because there is no farther they can go.”

The Northern English pub at the heart of Jim Cartwright's “Two,” currently on stage at none too fragile theater, is built for introspection and not degradation. The playwright’s work has been compared to that of Samuel Beckett’s, whose plays tend to be stark, deeply pessimistic reflections about human nature and the human condition, but moderated by a wicked sense of humor. “Two” is certainly that.

The play features a bickering, middle-aged husband and wife who run the place and serve drinks to the dozen or so definitively damaged regulars who pass through their pub on this particular evening.

Everyone – the barkeeps, an elderly woman who is saddled with caring for her disabled husband, a self-proclaimed “Lady’s Man” who takes for granted his adoring companion, a “lovely old bugger” who reminisces about his late wife, and a woman who prefers “big, quiet, strong men” but has settled on the small, timid Mr. Iger, among others – is played by Derdriu Ring and David Peacock. They do so with astounding verisimilitude, an impressive attention to detail and an ear for sentimentality.

Oh, sure, sometimes this one-act two-hander comes across as mere pub food – quick and tasty but unsubstantial, over-seasoned and unmemorable – but Ring and Peacock offer a master class in quick-change character study and the artful personification of human frailty. They mine all the humor and find all the heartbreak in the script.

Adding to the authenticity is the necessary trek through Pub Bricco in order to get to the intimate none too fragile theater performance space in the rear. Rubbing shoulders with its imbibing clientele and having to queue up in front of the restrooms to gain entry to the box office adds to the experience.

Once inside, director/scenic designer Sean Derry has created an impressionistic rendition of a tavern that offers a bar top without bartending accoutrements, suspended stained glass panels to represent walls, and Brian Kenneth Armour’s ambient soundtrack of chatter and breaking glass. Here, the pouring and consumption of drinks is pantomimed but the emotion is real. All this nicely matches the poetic language that works its way into each character’s monologue.

Consider bringing a designated driver to “Two,” not because of the complimentary shot of whiskey offered before the production but because this is a production worth sharing with someone.

Bob Abelman covers professional theater and cultural arts for the Cleveland Jewish News. Follow Bob at Facebook.com/BobAbelman3 or visit cjn.org/Abelman.

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Letters, commentaries and opinions appearing in the Cleveland Jewish News do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Cleveland Jewish Publication Company, its board, officers or staff.

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