It feels like the world is falling apart around us. I won’t inventory our multitude of dismal circumstances and human failures; we’ve all been doom-scrolling for years. A few of our current troubles figure quite prominently here. Michael Ross Albert’s Two Minutes to Midnight, presented by The Assembly Theatre, is a taut two-hander that pulls us, laughing and crying, into a private apocalypse.
We barely have a moment with Jack (Luis Fernandes) and Tracy (Cass Van Wyck) before all hell breaks loose. The lights cut out and, in the darkness, an air raid siren wails over the cacophony of stampeding, panicked vacationers. Suddenly, the couple are left alone at their all-inclusive tropical resort. Before the signal cuts out, an emergency message on their phones informs them that a ballistic missile is headed for their archipelago.
Wrestling with the horror of impeding annihilation, they are forced to unpack their relationship. Individually, Jack and Tracy have intense, persuasive personalities. Together, they are an electrifying, destructive force. As the duo, Fernandes and Van Wyck are an absolute thrill to behold. They provoke, fumble through mini-reconciliations and grope desperately at the rocky terrain of a loving yet deeply frustrating partnership.
Janelle Cooper’s direction keeps them in persistent motion from start to finish. Even during quiet, reflective moments you can feel Jack and Tracy’s insides churning.
As they catalogue their grievances, the conversation comes round and round to the same contentious points. Albert’s script never hiccups though. Instead of a tired retreading of the same ground, each time they address these familiar issues, it is from a slightly shifted context, illuminating some new aspect of their history. And the fraught, dysfunctional cycle feels painfully real.
Having quit his job to become a social media influencer, Jack’s travel vlogging has placed the financial burden of their life together squarely on Tracy’s shoulders. And her social justice activism irritates him. Fernandes’ vlog persona is a masterfully comic spectacle, though the emotional toll of his commitment to it weighs heavily. Their dynamic is, for the most part, hilarious, but genuine heartache creeps through.
The story never addresses the pandemic yet it is keenly felt. There are several references to phenomena that conjure COVID times—the freedom convoy, police raiding homeless encampments, working from home. You could find a metaphor for climate change in the incoming missile, I suppose, but Albert isn’t interested in didactic allegory.
Pascal Labillois’ set captures that weirdly comforting, eerie sense of luxurious artifice that characterizes generic, all-inclusive resorts. The faux-stone flooring, potted plants carefully arranged against textured walls—all framing a great blue expanse of sea and sky. The allure is disquieting.
Chin Palipane’s lighting provides a warm, even wash that never draws attention away from the performances. The cooler concept lighting for the vlog-recording segments, though somewhat uninspired, provides a suitable contrast. The finale though—a gradual, haunting shift in the quality and intensity of the light—has real, awesome power.
And that final line took my breath away.