Third time not lucky for ‘Two’s a Crowd’
Arts on Sunday
By Al Creighton
October 12, 2003
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After many uncertain months in the first half of the year, a few brave productions took the risk to go on stage. They might have improved the prospects for local theatre even if most of them did not improve the size of the audience.
The most recent of these was a very courageous revival by Jennifer Thomas and Godfrey Naughton of Ian Valz’s Two’s A Crowd; a new production in lean times of a play about Guyana in lean times. It is set in the 1980s during economic hardships and shortages and was very popular when it was first performed and in a rerun soon after. The country and its economic struggles have changed, but, ironically, while the play had good houses in those years, now brought back for the third time, it struggled to attract a crowd.
For his start in drama, Valz graduated from St. Stanislaus College to the Theatre Guild and then went on to become one of the leading playwrights, actors and producers in the country before emigrating. He was among those responsible for the rise and popularisation of the theatre in Guyana in the 1980s. Two’s A Crowd was one of his popular successes but also one from his period of immaturity as a dramatist. This is reflected in a work that is dated, slight, limited and has not stood the test of time. In that sense it is typical of several plays that thrived when topical drama was a major attraction, but have proved ephemeral.
Like them, it is ill-equipped to survive outside of its time. Too many topical references are superficially treated in the script, good enough for a hearty laugh at the moment when they were topical, but fairly meaningless now. In a more mature play they would have been more integrated in plot and setting, so that a society in which “Comrade” was the declared official title and basic food and consumer items were extremely scarce would have been more thoroughly preserved in drama. As it stands now, the play’s social setting has little meaning to an audience unfamiliar with those times and the drama is not mature enough to get more than a few laughs out of the environment in which it is set.
Other important weaknesses are related to this. The play was some three hours long, but because of the thinness of its substance, it was not worth that time. It thus became drawn out and repetitive and, despite its type as a hilarious comedy, had a number of boring moments. Naughton as director and set designer, helped this to happen because the set was unnecessarily deep with too much action removed far up-stage and behind an obstructive makeshift wall.
Albert and Agnes Alberts (Godfrey Naughton and Jennifer Thomas) have been married for seven years and think themselves happy, sharing a routine of frivolous fun. They seem well-suited since Albert is a typical conservative male chauvinist taking Agnes’ fixed role as faithful housewife and servant for granted, while she unthinkingly accepts that role. But this begins to change largely through the intervention of their gay neighbour, Henry White (Michael Ignatius), who instigates Agnes’ rebellion and disturbs the complacency of the marriage by hatching a scheme to make them appreciate each other more and get closer together. It turns out that neither of them was really satisfied, and for the marriage to work, Albert had to change his obstinate chauvinist attitudes.
But the dramatic conflicts are often trivial with the real issue on which the plot rests coming late in the play after what seems a lengthy, superficial and meandering preamble. Even then, this conflict was a bit laboured, repetitive and really resolvable in a much shorter time. Henry’s plot is the stuff of romantic fantasy: somewhat unrealistic, trifling, unconvincing and played for humour, but it brings about the changes necessary for the play’s happy ending.
This hinges on the real issues that arise from the play although not skilfully handled in the script. It nevertheless effectively communicated the issue of the woman in Agnes’ position under male dominance. There was nothing new in the treatment or the resolution, but it did enough to draw the audience in to Agnes and her situation. Much of this was achieved by Miss Thomas’ performance. She was comfortable and assured and managed the transition to self-discovery despite the fact that it was a fairly sudden realisation of what she felt she deserved than any deep ironing out or resolution of the issue.
The comedy also called for the reformation of the male chauvinist, but this, too, was a quite sudden capitulation that Naughton as actor and director had to deal with. There was no real period of growth or development. Naughton has strength in his understanding of timing and easily communicated the necessary menace in the character. But while he handled the comedy well enough, the more studied emotions did not come so easily. He was guilty of far too much shouting as a means of conveying some emotions; but shouting is very limited as a technique.
The rise of the openly gay ‘couple’ as a social phenomenon, through the presence of Henry, is better handled by the play. This was not stale or dated although played for as many laughs as it would yield. But that was assisted by the fact that the gay issue has once again become prominent. It was also due to Ignatius’ portrayal of a character that is well drawn and remains the most successful part of the play. In this case the character is colourful with attention paid to nuances in addition to obvious stereotypes.
The potential for humour remains evergreen and Ignatius capitalised on it in spite of his limitations as an actor. It is a role given to exhibitionism and caricature, which easily led him to play-act. An audience should see a character, they should not see someone acting, and that was the case with Ignatius. Yet the contribution of this role to the drama is substantial, additionally, because of its subtle irony. Henry’s ‘household’ is a constant source of humour, but it is a foil for the superficially happy home of the Alberts, which we are supposed to take seriously. It is the gay Henry, whose homosexual ‘marriage’ is a source of laughter, who engineers the necessary change to save the marriage of the ‘straight’ couple.
If Valz had managed to craft the whole play as well as this element of it, he would have produced a much more enduring drama.