The “two-hander” is a term for a play, film, or television program with only two main characters. When a show only requires two actors, the full depth of the show must be carried by those two characters and may lend itself to interesting storylines that wouldn’t otherwise work in shows that require more than two actors. Featured are just a look at the many shows that need two people to be produced, and are some of the most well-known two-handers in the history of theatre.
Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune
Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune was written by Terrence McNally, and debuted Off-Broadway in 1987. The story follows a middle-aged couple and their tentative start to a relationship after spending a night together. Frankie writes off Johnny as a one-night-stand, whereas Johnny believes there is more to their relationship. The play opened on Broadway in 2002 at the Belasco Theatre, and received two Tony Award nominations. Most recently, a 2019 revival starred Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon as the title characters.
Love Letters, written by A. R. Gurney, centers around the story of Melissa and Andrew, childhood friends who share correspondence through their lives and become romantically entangled. This show premiered at the New York Public Library in 1988, and saw a Broadway debut at the Edison Theatre in 1989 with Lynn Redgrave and John Clark as the two main characters.
The Last Five Years
Written by Jason Robert Brown, The Last Five Years follows the story of Jamie and Cathy’s five-year relationship. The story features Jamie’s point of the story is told in chronological order, while Cathy’s is told in reverse chronological order – the character’s only point where their stories intersect is in the midpoint of the show. The show debuted in Chicago at the Northlight Theatre in 2001, and opened Off-Broadway at the Minetta Theatre in 2002. A film adaptation starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan was released in 2015.
This play follows the story of Mark Rothko and his assistant Ken, working on a commission to paint a group of murals for an expensive and exclusive Four Seasons restaurant. This show premiered at the Donmar Warehouse in 2009 featuring Alfred Molina and Eddie Redmayne as Rothko and Ken, respectively, and transferred to Broadway where it played at the John Golden Theatre in 2010. The play was nominated for a total of seven Tony Awards, winning six including Best Play. The play was revived in2018 at the Wyndham’s Theatre in London’s West End with Alfred Enoch as Ken, and Alfred Molina reprising his role.
Murder for Two
This musical comedy features music by Joe Kinosian and lyrics by Kellen Blair, with a book co-written by Kinosian and Blair. The story is a “whodunit” written for two actors, who both sing and play an onstage piano. With only two actors, one actor takes the role of the policeman investigating a murder, and the other takes the multiple roles of the suspects and all other characters. Murder for Two premiered at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater in 2011, and ran Off-Broadway from 2013 to 2014.
Written by Nick Payne, this play premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in January 2012. The story follows Roland and Marianne through their romantic relationship. Marianne eventually finds that she has a tumor in her brain, and with less than a year to live, pursues assisted suicide with Roland’s support. Constellations made its Broadway debut at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre in 2015 starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson.
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