TWO CAN PLAY by Trevor Rhone, directed by ahdri zhina mandiela, with Karen Robinson and Malcolm Xerxes. Presented by Obsidian Theatre at the Berkeley Street Theatre Upstairs (26 Berkeley). Runs to July 2, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday and Sunday 2 pm. $25-$35. 416-368-3110. Rating: NNNN
It takes a while to get there, but Caribbean playwright Trevor Rhone's Two Can Play pays off in the end.
Set against the backdrop of political turmoil in Jamaica in the late 1970s, it shows us a few months in the lives of Jim ( Malcolm Xerxes ) and Gloria ( Karen Robinson ), a nearing-middle-age Kingston couple who want to emigrate to join their three children in the U.S. After hatching a scheme that involves getting divorced and smuggling money to pay off a Miami lawyer, they find their lives - and relationship - at a turning point.
Do they stay or do they go? More importantly, does Gloria, who's cooked and cleaned for the self-serving Jim her whole life, want more? Will Jim ever change?
The play's theme of a woman discovering her voice occasionally makes it feel like we're watching back-to-back episodes of All In The Family. But Rhone makes the script specific to its time and place, especially in his use of language. It's written and performed in a broad patois that - for some - might take time to get used to.
And his bold look at sexuality - particularly masturbation - gives the play a contemporary kick.
Rhone clearly feels affection for his characters. Jim's lack of courage comes out in the opening scene, and Xerxes captures his over-compensating bravado in a fine, strutting-peacock performance. Gloria's a stronger, more complex character, and Robinson nails the wise-ass sarcasm in the beginning yet opens her soul to reveal a woman genuinely questioning where her life and marriage are heading in the second act.
Gloria's description of life in America - including the poverty and racism - is the play's best extended piece of writing, and Robinson internalizes it so the discovery haunts her character.
Director ahdri zhina mandiela captures the shifting moods and tones effectively, bringing out the humour and humanity by focusing on the couple's relationship.
Steve Lucas 's set delivers on the script's suggestion that the couple's home be a prison, at the same time providing a convincing That 70s Show: Jamaica feel. A clever set change in the second act feels quite fitting. But I'm not sure we need the multiple screens for projections, something that's become overused lately.