The Acadia Repertory Theatre has opened its season with the engaging little play “Two,” written by British playwright Jim Cartwright. It is directed by Mount Desert Island’s own Frank Bachman and stars Adam Qualls and, most wonderfully, Cheryl Willis, of whom, let’s face it, audiences can never get enough.
This very dynamic duo plays not only a long-married and endlessly bickering couple, owners of a pleasantly rustic British Pub, but they manage to fill the place with a variety of customers.
At first, it is all great fun – a little glimpse into the lives of the local folks who come in for a pint or two at the end of a long day.
We meet the woman who spends her day caring for her invalid husband and is yearning secretly for the local butcher, then the aging roué who considers himself something of a player in the game of love but is tied to his girlfriend’s purse strings. We also meet the woman who waxes eloquently about her love for big, burly men, but has hitched herself to something of a pipsqueak of a guy who can’t fight his way up to the bar to get them both a drink; the abusive husband who has rendered his cowed wife virtually speechless for fear of saying the wrong thing; the old gent who comes in to drink a toast to his dear departed wife; the angry other woman; and the mentally challenged couple who turn on the pub TV to watch an old western so they can admire the horses.
At times, the dialogue these customers use to describe their lives is pure poetry.
“I love big men. Their temple arms, pillar legs and synagogue chests. I love their big mouths, big teeth and tongues like an elephant’s ear. I love their big carved faces like a cliff side… .”
Qualls and Willis accomplish some impressive fast changing here. In one moment, one or both of them is busy tending bar – this action so expertly pantomimed one forgets there are no physical bottles, beer taps or glasses to be seen – and in a blink of an eye, they are coming through the pub door as a new customer.
As already mentioned, this all starts out as great fun, but something about the pub owners is off. What at first seems to be the sort of back-and-forth banter couples fall into after a long marriage soon turns ugly. She drinks too much behind the bar; his barbs are tipped with poison. And yet at the same time, they continue to work their busy pub like a well-oiled machine. This teamwork, like the bickering, is apparently another longstanding habit.
Obviously, something terrible has happened to turn these two – who by their own accounts are living their dream, managing the place where they first met, courted and married – into enemies.
Eventually, as the customers come and go, drinks are served, and last call is given, we learn what has set these two against one another, and the laughter turns to tears.
“Two” is the perfect start to Acadia’s Rep’s new season; it demonstrates in one short two-person vehicle with some fine acting the sort of emotional and personal involvement only live theater can elicit from its audience. Qualls holds his own against the powerful stage presence of Willis, and the pair are well-matched in every vignette and personality they assume. Bachman’s direction is excellent, keeping the action moving about a set that is so convincing one rather wishes it was open for business after the show. All the characters are so distinct, despite all the split-second comings and goings, one is never confused about who’s who.
There are four more performances of “Two.” Thursday, Friday and Saturday night shows on July 9-11 start at 8:15 p.m., and a Sunday matinee will play July 12 at 2 p.m.
The Rep’s children’s theatre program is performing Cheryl Willis’s adaption of “Hansel and Gretel” Wednesdays and Saturdays at 10:30 a.m. through Sept. 5, and coming up on the main stage are the thriller “Wait Until Dark,” the dog lovers’ delight “Sylvia” and the annual mystery, this year a Sherlock Holmes.
For tickets and information, call 244-7260 or go to www.acadiarep.com.