nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
April 8, 2007
2 Husbands, now at the Chocolate Factory in Long Island City, is the most invigorating and challenging work of theatre I've seen in some time (at least since the last Chocolate Factory show I saw, the Force trilogy). It's also very cool to watch and experience. And it's got a socko finish.
Does that final comment of mine surprise you? It did me: 2 Husbands is a new work by playwright Ken Urban and director Brian Rogers, brilliantly eclectic theatre-makers both, but known for creating works of intellectual engagement rather than pop-culture-infused gotcha entertainments. This one is some of each, in the very best way: you'll be stimulated, and you'll also be jolted and surprised; and I think you'll leave, as I did, smiling to yourself at what a terrific ending these guys have found for their show—an ending that satisfies the way that the end of Brian DePalma's Carrie does.
Urban and Rogers definitely seem to bring out the best in one another. The script that Urban has created here weaves together two strong narratives. One involves a man known simply as "The Husband," whom we see in a series of visits to his wife ("The Patient"). She is in a coma in a hospital, and has been thus for years. When we first meet him, The Husband says to her:
Today I'll call you Hilda. That's not your name. Though for legal reasons I can't use your real name nor can I, for legal reasons, solve this problem. The problem of what to do about you.
The Patient's parents want to keep her on life support; so does Senator Bull Fist from the state of Tennegeorgibamatucky ("And/or Texas"). The Husband, who has remarried and has a child by his second wife, wants to move on. If all this sounds familiar, well, it's supposed to.
The second thread of 2 Husbands is about Philip, whose wife Chiho was recently killed after she was hit by a truck. Philip, sort of The Husband's complement, is unable to let go of his dead wife, and when we first encounter him he's trying to send a message to her in the Great Beyond. But when he starts getting letters that only Chiho could have written—and when a strange woman claiming to be Chiho arrives at his house—things alter dramatically. I don't really want to give away anything more about what happens, except to tell you that the same kinds of intrusive technologies keeping The Patient alive are involved here, in a scarier and more insidious fashion.
Technology, too, figures importantly in how Urban and his director tell the story. Rogers, who is also responsible for the video design of 2 Husbands, represents The Patient with a state-of-the-art computer monitor on which we see her occasionally mobile but always uncomprehending face (sometimes the screen is slid down her "body" and we see her torso or feet; Margot White provides these amazing visuals). Video is also used, to dazzling effect, to literalize the turmoil and confusion inside Philip's head as he tries to deal with his grief and, later, as he processes his wife's apparent return from the dead. Other design elements—notably Ann Warren's evocative sound and Chloe Z. Brown's lighting—further define mood and place.
At the center of 2 Husbands are two actors in the title roles. Victor Villar-Hauser plays the tormented Philip, while Travis York is The Husband. York shows us not only the sad and increasingly desperate man trying to end his wife's suffering (and his own), but also channels, in chilling comic monologues, some of those opposing him, such as his father-in-law and the busy-body senator. It's perhaps the finest performance I've yet seen from this actor, whose work I have admired since his first NYC appearance in 2001.
Completing the ensemble are four women, all as multiple characters—Sheila Lewandowski, Alanna Medlock, Yoko Myoi, and White—all of whom do expert work in (mostly) deliberately shadowy roles.
2 Husbands isn't content to be just a cautionary horror story about technology, though it is that; or a consideration of the political/ethical questions surrounding the Terry Schiavo case, though it is that, too. Urban and Rogers give us much more to ponder here, as they bring up questions about women's self-image, the nature of marriage, and the pervasive media-drenched culture in which the transactions of contemporary life necessarily occur. It makes for riveting, engaging theatre.