Ross Howard’s play “Two of Us,” showing in its world premiere at the Ross Howard Festival at Access Theater, provides a thought-provoking, psychedelic-infused look into the assassination of John Lennon.
“Two of Us” revolves around Mark Chapman and his wife, Gloria. The show starts off in kooky harmony — set in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1980, characters often sport boldly printed hibiscus flower shirts and strappy sandals. After a glowing origin story of Gloria’s marriage to Mark, the plot dives right in.
The cast, though the character list runs fairly long, is limited to Him (Mark, played by Chris Bert), Her (Gloria, played by Vivian Chiu), Sarah (Janae Mitchell), the female ensemble (Lea McKenna-Garcia) and the male ensemble (Chris Daftsios and Dan Fenaughty). All of their acting prowess shines strong, in particular that of Bert and Chiu, and especially during the later scenes of tensely heightened emotion. Daftsios also creates a dramatic character growth with one of his roles as Mark’s conscience. The character begins as a humorous quirk, but rapidly proves to be a loud, visceral part of the show, as terrifying and vital as a racing heartbeat.
The cast was also put to clever use during scene transitions, as on the backdrop of the set, strange, ‘80s-style trippy videos in which the actors lip-synced to songs from the era with gaudy tropical backdrops or perfectly cheesy camera effects. The transitions could have veered the show into an uncomfortably avant-garde zone, especially considering the slower pace of the plot and the presence of not only Mark’s conscience but also the appearance of Sarah — that’s right, the one from the Bible. With careful control and doubtless conscious curation, however, they served much more as a tool to heighten the atmosphere instead of distract from it.
Quickly, things between Mark and Gloria fall apart as Mark finds himself losing control and direction. His strange, schizophrenic behavior goes from curious to dangerous as it becomes clear that the whole show is based off of the Mark Chapman of real life, best known for his assassination of John Lennon. The development of the plot and the degeneration of Mark’s mental state are beautifully done with the same strangeness as the scene transitions.
The show’s unique appeal comes from its ability to take all of these elements to create an old story not necessarily in a new way, but in a vitally interesting one. Observations on mental illness, religion within colored American communities or the American military takeover and occupation of Hawaii are made, not in shocking ways, but in ones that make the story conscious in a way it easily could not have been. John Lennon’s drag is traditionally told in a tragic, nostalgic way; playwright Ross Howard and his team tell it in an engaging, entertaining and humane way.
The Ross Howard Festival is running at Access Theater at 380 Broadway through Nov. 12.
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