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Preview: 'Two Rooms'
Breathe Art crosses the border with contemporary love story

Although it's a story seemingly ripped from today's headlines – an America university professor is taken hostage by terrorists in Beirut – "Two Rooms," a powerful drama by Lee Blessing, ventures into territory that's all-too foreign to much of the blood-thirsty news media.
It's a love story, Director Demetri Vacratsis told Curtain Calls last week, despite its heavy political undertones. "It's a story about separation, and that's what we're focusing on."
"Two Rooms" is the third and final show of the Breathe Art Theatre Project's inaugural season, an endeavor that combines artistic talent from both sides of the Detroit River. The first two shows were staged in Windsor; "Two Rooms" is set to open March 10 at 1515 Broadway in Detroit.
Blessing's script was initially staged in 1988; it was named Best Play of the Year by Time Magazine. Yet despite its age, "Two Rooms" is just as topical and timely today as it was nearly twenty years ago.
"It's about a woman who strips her husband's office at home of furniture who's just been taken hostage," Vacratsis said. "She symbolically strips it to experience what he's experiencing."
The woman – Lanie – spends most of her time in the room awaiting word of her husband's fate, while the imprisoned Michael writes letters home to his wife, but only in his head. Throughout her ordeal, Lanie is privately critical of the government's handling of the situation, despite the sympathy extended her by a State Department official.
A reporter wants to change that, however; he wants to publish her story.
"It's a very difficult play," said the director, admitting it would be easy to stereotype both the reporter and the government official. "It's pretty difficult to strike a balance. We're trying to show both sides of both lives."
It's also a play that can be interpreted in a number of different ways, Vacratsis added. "I think oftentimes in our society, between the government and what we're seeing on the news, and just the daily politics of life, we forget that there are two people involved who are separated, and whose lives that effects. That's the story we're telling."
What helps make the process easier, Vacratsis acknowledged, is his cast of seasoned actors. "Their instincts have been very good [regarding] what we want to explore. There's always discussion. And heated levels of interpretation," he chuckled.
Producing a cross-border project such as "Two Rooms" is not without its share of red tape, of course.
For starters, there are two actors' unions with which to negotiate – the Canadian and American branches of Actors' Equity Association. "It was a tricky situation, but Canadian Equity was very supportive. They came right on board," the director said.
Then there are work rules and tax laws that must be followed. "I luck out personally because I'm a dual citizen. And so my passing between the borders and working on either side is not a problem."
And then there are border guards on both sides of the river. "They're getting to know us," he laughed.
None of this was unforeseen by Vacratsis and Courtney Burkett who conceived Breathe Art Theatre Project after a chance encounter last year at a Windsor restaurant – where Burkette was a customer and Vacratsis a waiter.
"We brainstormed this idea of creating a cross-border company," the actor/director/occasional waiter recalled. "We were interested in pursuing a contemporary theater, and at the same time, opening up the borders to actors on both sides and trying to do productions on both sides."
The company's artistic goal, he said, is to produce only plays that have a direct link to what's happening in our society today. That is, "plays that are taking place now."
Original plans called for each production to be staged in both Windsor and Detroit. Only the group's first production mounted last May, "How I Learned to Drive," has been seen on both sides of the river. Economics caused the partners to temporarily rethink those plans.
For now, though, Vacratsis is pleased to bring "Two Rooms" to 1515 Broadway – a venue long familiar to local theatergoers. "Chris [Jaszczak] has been great to us since we started conversations with him last summer. He's given us a great opportunity. Our shows are studio works, so the theater there tends to suit our style."
"Two Rooms" – featuring Daniel Roth, Morgan Chard, Linda Rabin Hammell and Peter Coady – will be staged by Breathe Art Theatre Project at 1515 Broadway, Detroit, March 10 – 12 & 18 – 19. Tickets: $18 USD. Credit card purchases can be made by calling 519-254-7622; advance reservations can be made by calling 313-965-1515. Tickets purchased at the door will be cash only.

Preview: 'Menopause The Birthday Party"
Award-winning musical to celebrate first birthday at the Gem

Who would have thought that four menopausal women would pack the rafters at the Gem Theatre for a year, but that's what's been happening ever since "Menopause The Musical" opened to glowing reviews and excellent word-of-mouth last March.
To celebrate its first anniversary, a birthday party has been planned for Friday, March 11. The event includes dinner, the show and an afterglow with the cast and author, Jeanie Linders. As a special treat, one lucky guest will win a $500 gift card from Bloomingdales!
Since opening at Detroit's Gem Theatre, the off-Broadway, smash-hit comedy has played to more than 125,000 visitors, breaking the previous record set by "Escanaba in da Moonlight" and proving that four menopausal women in Bloomingdale's pack more of a punch than a few men in the woods!
Dinner reservations include salad, a choice between four menopause-friendly entrŽes and dessert. Tax, gratuity, and non-alcoholic beverages are included. The after-glow birthday party immediately follows the performance of the show.
Tickets to the party are only $68. Reservations can be made by calling the Gem Theatre box office at 313-963-9800.


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