The first thing an audience member will notice walking into the Burton-Taylor Studio for Arthur Miller’s Two Way Mirrror is how readily the set lends itself to intimacy and intensity. Working off a small space with a couple rows of seats either side, this production makes use of two excellent actors, a small number of props and simple but atmospheric lighting cues to create two separate but equally enthralling plays- both working off the themes of love and trust.
The emotional nuances of the first play, Elegy of A Lady, build over the course of a conversation between strangers. Louisa Iselin and Saul Lowndes Britton play a sympathetic shop proprietress and an older man facing the difficult realities of a mysterious love affair respectively, and their chemistry makes the growing bond between these unnamed characters believable. Saul, in the face of an almost therapeutic presence, spins from distraught nerves to guilty contemplation, and Louisa almost moves into the role of the absent lover: they circle around each other on the set as their connection deepens. Soft jazz piano strains every so often build on the atmosphere, and the 40s setting creates a more rigid social structure to emphatically contrast their boundary-crossing connection.
This production does justice to Arthur Miller’s classic drama in an understated presentation of ambiguous premises which build to beautiful moments of understanding as well as tension.
In the second longer half Some Kind of Love Story, the intensity ebbs and flows, as the audience becomes as equally frustrated and intrigued as Saul’s detective Tommy. The 5 years’ history between him and Angela (the potential witness who supposedly has the information he needs to close a vital case) complicates their interactions as much as her deteriorating mental state does, and the exchanges of power between the two are fascinating to witness under the surface of their often abrasive conversation. The tone of this play is less subtle than the first, and the East Coast accents and desperate physicality of these characters reflect that. Despite the more straight-forward and less mannered conversation, however, its ambiguity matches the previous play through Tommy’s constant struggle over how much of Angela’s story is true and untainted by her mental illness, trauma or desperate desire for his ongoing company. Although Saul depicts a compelling character here (uncertain about his own levels of delusion, driven to threats of violence, outwardly committed to justice but primarily scared for his reputation), Angela is the focal point of this play. The hysterical outbursts and alternate personalities are deftly handled by Louisa – with different direction those moments could become awkwardly comedic, but here Angela’s occasional breaks with reality still appear attached enough to her characterisation and reality that they are heartbreaking.
Reusing costumes, props and the only two actors in a nominally different play would hurt most other productions; here, however, it only draws attention to the range and capability of the actors, and heightens the atmosphere of distrust and deception. The audience is also enraptured even further by the proximity to the central drama: at their heights, the angry exchanges of Some Kind of Love Story seem uncomfortably realistic, as though you are overhearing neighbours in a dead-end confusing argument.
This production does justice to Arthur Miller’s classic drama in an understated presentation of ambiguous premises which build to beautiful moments of understanding as well as tension. By emphasising the acting talent at the centre here, Two Way Mirror is able to draw the audience into two fascinating character studies that are sure to stay in your thoughts- clever, sympathetic and vividly brought to life.