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Beirut abduction is focus of Lee Blessing's taut new drama. POLITICS AS THEATER

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Everyone in Beirut - Jew, Christian, Shiite Muslim - is ``fighting for the very ground,'' says Michael Wells, a central character in Lee Blessing's new play, ``Two Rooms,'' receiving its world premi`ere here at the La Jolla Playhouse. Wells, a US citizen, adds, ``We haven't had to do that for 100 years. We're no different from these people; we've just forgotten.''

Mr. Blessing's play - his second collaboration with director Des McAnuff - is a pointed reminder of the volatility of the Mideast, and of how it feels for an outsider to be caught in the middle. In this case, the victim is Wells, a photographer taken hostage in Beirut while chronicling a city in chaos.

Since 1984, as State Department representative Ellen Van Oss (played by Jo Henderson) notes at the opening of the second act, 17 Americans have been kidnapped in Lebanon. Two have died in captivity; two have escaped; and four have been freed. Nine remain.

The hostage dramatized here is a fictional composite, drawn from testimony of those who have returned and the imagination of the playwright.

Blessing focuses on the separate agonies of Wells and his wife, back in the US, unfolding simultaneously: the wife a prisoner to her own fears at the same time that her husband is chained to a bed, the one blindfolded figuratively, the other literally.

The story is told through the eyes of four people in two rooms. As the lights come up, Wells's wife, Lainie (Amanda Plummer), sits cross-legged on the floor of her husband's office, quietly lamenting his fate and eagerly awaiting news of his release. She is visited intermittently by Walker Bennett (Brent Jennings), a persistent and sympathetic news reporter, and by the State Department's Van Oss.

The lights go down. In the same spare dramatic space, Michael (Jon DeVries) appears - shoeless, blindfolded, and bound on a mattress in an otherwise empty room. He composes letters aloud to his wife, describing ``snapshots of all I see,'' which includes his initial kidnapping, various outings, and room transfers to stay ahead of possible rescue attempts.

The drama continues more or less in this alternating format, with subtle monotony that builds a parallel tension to the events as they unfold. Three video monitors portray images of Wells in captivity. Various slides - used in conversations between Lainie and reporter Bennett - are projected creatively to provide realistic backdrops of Beirut scenes and other real-life hostages.


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