The dramatic comedy "Two" is both sad and funny at None Too Fragile as married British pub owners welcome an array of personalities to their watering hole in the north of England.
In this two-hander directed by Sean Derry, expert actors Derdriu Ring and David Peacock portray not only the Landlady and Landlord, but also 12 other regulars at the bar. British playwright Jim Cartwright's smart title for this 1989 play refers to both its two actors and the fact that he has written character studies of diverse couples through multiple vignettes.
Ring and Peacock, who are a joy to watch opposite each other, are chameleons as they create couples in multiple permutations. Most of these relationships are dominated by dissatisfaction, disillusionment or misunderstanding, and one is dangerously unhealthy.
The actors start out bustling around the bar as the bickering owners, he the penny-pinching taskmaster and she the generous one who offers drinks on the house. It's clear this couple doesn't get along: They spend their time either putting each other down or simply acting frosty.
Landlord and Landlady are carrying a great sadness but we don't know what that is until much later in the play.
It's remarkable to watch Ring switch from the boisterous Landlady to the stifled Lesley. So much is said without words in the first 30 seconds of this scene, through Ring's downcast eyes and cowering body language.
Peacock is chilling here as abusive husband Roy. He exercises such mental cruelty and control over Ring's defeated Lesley, she can't even go to the bathroom without being mentally tortured.
Ring, who has some very quick changes, transforms herself with body language, demeanor, or just wearing a scarf differently around her head. The scarf becomes a babushka when she enters as the Old Woman to savor a drink and talk about the burden of caring for an ill loved one late in life.
Here, Cartwright has the Old Woman evoking imagery of a butcher in graphic symbolism of "bewildered and pig-weary couples."
Ring transforms again as the rather desperate, tacky Maud, wearing a tiara-type hair clip as she attempts to hang on to her womanizing boyfriend, Moth. Peacock brings on the laughs as Moth tries lame pickup lines and dances like a nerd in his bid for attention from the ladies. This guy's name is apropos, considering Moth seems to be attracted to all women, as a moth is to a flame.
Peacock couldn't be more different in the monologue that follows as the Old Man, who romanticizes his adored, deceased wife. It's a bittersweet characterization of a husband still putting his beloved on a pedestal, even in death.
The gears shift again with Mr. and Mrs. Iger, as Ring's controlling wife passes up no opportunity to emasculate her timid husband with her verbal abuse. Peacock and Ring next create a comfortable sort of camaraderie with slouchy Fred and Alice, who appear to no longer make any effort with each other. But there's a drily humorous sort of acceptance between them as they call each other "old and fat."
Other singles portrayed in this play include Ring's "other woman," who shows up at the bar looking for a showdown with her lover, and Peacock's young Boy, who breaks our hearts as he sits frightened on a bar stool waiting for his absent father.
His appearance creates a connection that finally leads Landlord and Landlady to open their hearts to each other for the first time in seven years.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at @KerryClawsonABJ or www.facebook.com/kclawsonabj.