theater (reviews)

review: this wide night

This Wide Night

by Chloe Moss
Directed by Anne Kauffman
Starring Edie Falco and Alison Pill
Naked Angels at Peter Sharp Theater, 416 West 42nd Street
production web site:
http://nakedangels.com/thiswidenight/
May 8, 2010 through June 27, 2010

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
June 3, 2010

I have spent some time in Brixton (a squalid south London outpost) visiting a then ex-pat friend who decided to maximize housing dollars (sigh) and reserve dollars for travels outside of London.  That made for some great trips out of London and kinda sordid living conditions while home.  This Wide Night occupies a physical and psychic space in that urban outpost — a haunted space that holds, for a time, two haunted lives that once shared a prison cell.  Direction by Anne Kauffman is varied and dynamic and fluid and layered.  Performances by Edie Falco as Lorraine the middle-aged new prison release, and Alison Pill as Marie the 20-something girl of the streets with a past drug habit, renter of the flat in which the play’s action occurs, and current street lifestyle are muscular and nuanced and a privilege to observe.  And the play itself — challenges.

Chloe Moss‘s play hits provocative and profound themes of connections within prison and acclimation (or not) on the outside and the lasting nature of relationships built out of the need for human warmth and companionship.  Will these and can these relationships endure when the context is changed?  Which pieces of a life are shared and which NOT shared when humans live through extreme conditions (natural disaster or kidnapping or prison or .. pick your extreme).   This play raises many of these themes in often successfully layered scenes that flash and move over a short period of time that is not clarified – days or weeks perhaps, but no longer.  Two women of different ages who knew each other well (in a mother-daughter-friend-“family in crisis” kind of way) look over the edges and fragments of their past relationship in a new context: the outside where one has been for some time and into which the other newly has been released.  They and we spend the ensuing 90 minutes examining the shards of their relationship in this new light, this new context, washed with the rain that falls intermittently.

We grow to love the characters through these performances.  We learn of painful past lives but not much about the events that brought the women to prison in the first place, and this is fine.  We learn that Lorraine killed a man but not much about the context.  And we learn that Marie was strung out when incarcerated and went off the drugs cold turkey.  The other details are murky.  And it is in the cumulative efforts to relay some of these details for us, the audience, at this stage in the women’s relationship that the playwright’s skills falter.  Moments that ring false.  My playwright theatre companion provides a frame for these thwarted expectations in conversation (and, truth be told, in one of his books on playwriting).  We have expectations for character language when relationships are “high context” (e.g. old friends, people who share professions, deep shared knowledge or experience) and when they are “low context” (e.g. new friends, casual acquaintances).  Let’s just say our “high context” characters engage in some “low context” dialogue a bit too often for my tastes.  And in terms of script —  no amount of lovely lighting or set design or truly stunning performance moments will save that.

Set design by Rachel Hauck provides ill-fitting doors and long unpainted dirty surfaces and just enough squalor to be believable.  Light design by Matt Frey provides stunning stage pictures: morning light through a single sad window and bare bulb lighting fixtures and a flickering soundless television and the delay of flourescent bathroom fixtures.  Sound design by Robert Kaplowitz supports the action and fills the sordid space with cleansing rain outside and sounds of neighbors inside.

The playwright notes in the playbill that she developed this play with assistance of women inmates and tours this play to prisons — I suspect that issue-raising specific context may indeed be the long-term future for this work.  All that said, this production provides a special time spent with a few special actors and is worth a trip to the Peter Jay Sharp Theater.

© Martha Wade Steketee (June 4, 2010)

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