Thursday, November 15, 2012

THIS WIDE NIGHT • West End Players Guild

Chloë Moss based her 2010 play on research she did while volunteering at Cookham Wood prison in Kent, England, but in This Wide Night, prison time is only briefly mentioned -- it doesn't focus on prison life.  Instead, it looks at not only how time spent in prison has affected the friendship of two former cell-mates -- Marie (Rachel Hanks) and Lorraine (Jane Abling), but also how it's rendered life on the outside just as formidable a challenge as life on the inside.  Continuing the West End Players' 102nd season, this play, directed under the sure hand of Sean Ruprecht-Belt, has more than meets the eye.

The play begins in Marie's dreary studio apartment in London.  She has been out for awhile, but still not at all acclimated to her freedom.  She only really gets out to go to her night-shift job at a pub.  One evening there's a knock on her door, and she skittishly answers to find Lorraine.  Lorraine is middle-aged and fresh out of prison after serving a 12 year sentence, and in the midst of getting her bearings, Marie's flat is one of her first visits.

Jane Abling (Lorraine) and Rachel Hanks (Marie).
Photo credit: John Lamb
These two have been out of touch since their cell-time stint together, and there's an immediate uneasiness between them.  Lorraine is eventually invited in, but their conversation is dotted with awkward pauses and fits and starts.  Their adjustment to life out of prison has rendered the closeness they once shared as cell-mates muddled and disoriented.  Over the course of about a week where Lorraine hasn't really moved in as much as just hung around, they continue to attract and repel each other as the memories of their time together in prison, where every moment of their day is dictated to them, are mixed with a sobering sense of missing it, along with their dashed hopes, and the constant struggle to try to maintain their equilibrium.

Rachel Hanks (Marie) and Jane Abling (Lorraine)
Photo credit: John Lamb
Hanks and Abling do a remarkable job infusing these characters with cautious cheer, quiet panic, desperation and compassion -- relaying just as much in what isn't said, as in what is said.  Their dialects are convincing, particularly Abling, who wears hers quite comfortably.  These two performances are bolstered by the contributions of Tim Grumich's detailed scenic design, Chuck Lavazzi's sound design, and Tony Anselmo's lighting design.  The pairing of the sound of rain and the shadows that rain can produce was haunting and effective.  Lisa Haselhorst's costume design also subtly informed both characters.

I remember reading about this play when it opened off-Broadway, and it's always a treat when a local company takes on a show like this one.  Check it out.  It's playing for one more weekend.


Written by Chloë Moss
Directed by Sean Ruprecht-Belt
Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union Blvd.
through November 18 | tickets: $15 - $20
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm

Rachel Hanks (Marie) and Jane Abling (Lorraine)
Photo credit: John Lamb
Rachel Hanks (Marie) and Jane Abling (Lorraine).

Scenic design by Tim Grumich; lighting design by Tony Anselmo; sound design by Chuck Lavazzi; costume design by Lisa Haselhorst; stage manager, Carrie Phinney.

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