Friday, August 15, 2014

And I and Silence **

Naomi Wallace, a playwright in residence at Signature Theatre this season, has a most impressive resume. It includes a MacArthur Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, an Obie Award, the 2012 Horton Foote Prize and the 2013 Windham Campbell prize for drama. I wish I could say that the reasons for all her honors were more evident in her new drama now in previews at Signature. The action follows the story of two young women both as teenagers in prison in 1950 and as roommates nine years later. Scenes of their hardships in the outside world are juxtaposed with scenes of their budding friendship in prison. Many of the prison scenes involve Young Jamie (Trae Harris), who is black, coaching Young Dee (Emily Skeggs), who is white, how to be a proper servant, the career they look forward to pursuing after prison. Part of the lessons involve learning where to establish lines that must not be crossed in dealings with their future employers. After prison Jamie (Rachel Nicks) and Dee (Samantha Soule) are living in abject poverty, struggling to find and hold jobs as servants. The disconnect between their personalities in prison and later is exacerbated by the lack of physical resemblance between the two actors playing them. Skeggs’s body type is so different from Soule’s that it is a stretch to accept the two as the same character at different ages. The reasons for their desperation are not made sufficiently clear. The sudden explosion of repressed lesbianism took me by surprise. The actors invest their roles with sincerity and energy. The spartan set by Rachel Hauck is effective, as are Cliff Ramos’s costumes. With the audience split into two facing sides, director Caitlin McLeod needs to work harder to insure that fewer lines are lost when the actors are facing away. It all seemed like a mash-up of “Girls in Prison” and “Thelma and Louise” with a touch of “The Maids” thrown in. I hope that Wallace’s remaining two plays will deliver more evidence of her talents. In case you were wondering, the title is a line from an Emily Dickinson poem. Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission.

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