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THEATER : Two Faces of the Adams Sisters : Lynne and Brooke were born into the entertainment world, and they combine their dramatic talents for 'Two Faced,' the story of an abandoned housewife.

October 09, 1994|Kristine McKenna | Kristine McKenna is a frequent contributor to Calendar.

At a glance "Two Faced," a one-woman play written and performed by Lynne Adams, seems like a feminist work. Directed by Adams' sister, actress Brooke Adams, the play--which opens Friday at Theatre 1761--is a study of a middle-aged housewife who's had the rug pulled out from under her.

Her husband's left her for a younger woman, she's losing her house, she's estranged from her children and--slightly overweight and angry--she's forced to re-enter the job market.

As the play develops, however, it moves beyond women's issues and becomes an inquiry into the masks we all don in order to protect the more fragile parts of ourselves from a world that can be less than kind.

Originally written as a screenplay, "Two Faced" premiered as a play in 1992 at the Common Stage Theater in Woodstock, N.Y., and made its Los Angeles debut last January with a five-day run at Theatre 1761.

"We opened right after the earthquake," recalls Lynne Adams during a conversation at the L.A. home that Brooke shares with her husband, actor Tony Shalhoub, and their two children. "It was hard to get audiences then, though, so we're trying again."

Talking with the Adams sisters, one is struck by the love and respect they clearly feel for each other; they never interrupt each other, they laugh at each others' jokes, and speak candidly of the effort it has taken them to arrive at this point.

Brooke, the younger of the two at 44 (Lynne is 46), first came to prominence in 1978 starring in Terrence Malick's remarkable fable of turn-of-the-century America, "Days of Heaven."

While Brooke was becoming a movie star, Lynne was a featured player on "Guiding Light" and "The Secret Storm" from 1972-82. One imagines there must have been an element of competition between them, but they seem to have resolved that. "Brooke was always the favorite who got everything she wanted," Lynne declares, getting no argument from Brooke. This is clearly a fact of life that no longer appears to concern them, and Brooke seems content to work from the wings on "Two Faced."

"The narrative line in this play isn't based on my life," says Lynne of "Two Faced."

"The part that is about me is the idea of living with two different faces. When I began thinking about this play, I was spending half my time in blue jeans in the country on a farm, and the other half in a more glamorous incarnation of myself in New York. There was a big dichotomy in the way I was treated, depending on how I was dressed, and then when I decided to stop dying my hair and let it go white, the difference in the way I was treated was appalling. I was simultaneously terrified and enraged by the fact that I was essentially being forbidden to age.

"It's hard to say who's responsible for this culture's obsession with youth and beauty, but it's used in many ways to keep women down," she adds. "The beauty industry is responsible to an extent, but nobody forces women to buy into it--they do that by choice. And the movie industry plays a big role in perpetuating a standard of beauty that doesn't allow women to age--what the industry does to middle-aged actresses is awful. There are no roles for them!"

"I'm treated like an old discarded shoe," Brooke interjects with a rueful laugh. Pegged as one of Hollywood's next big things in the late '70s, she's seen her film career lose considerable steam since then, and admits that the mercurial nature of the movie business had a lot to do with her decision to shift her attentions to the stage.

"I think of this as a feminist play," Lynne continues, "but the audiences we've gotten haven't been predominantly women. Men respond to the play, too, and tell me they experience a similar passage in life. Looking in the mirror and seeing an older person there is shocking for everybody, and I think the anxiety it induces is, ultimately, about death rather than the loss of one's youth. That older face is also a reminder that life is slipping by. When you're young your life is ahead of you, and I think we've all had the experience of reaching a certain age and not being where we wanted to be by that point. That's upsetting."

Brooke's decision to try her hand at directing wasn't entirely a result of the fact that Hollywood doesn't make it easy for actresses to age gracefully. "I'd thought about directing prior to this--in fact, I almost directed the sequel to 'The Unborn' for Roger Corman," she points out. "But when Lynne was looking for a director for the play in L.A., it didn't immediately occur to me that I should do it. It didn't take us long to figure that out though, because we had a great time working together in 1987--we played sisters in a play Lynne wrote called 'Over Mother's Dead Body' that was about our relationship. It was also about our parents, both of whom died in the early '80s."

"Our parents were extreme alcoholics and the play was also about alcoholic parents," adds Lynne.

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