This Wide Night, Chloë Moss’ two-hander about women attempting to cope with a return to civilian life after serving time in the same British prison, is a subtle character study that eventually evolves into the examination of the dynamics of the women’s relationship. It’s a play that raises more questions than it answers, leaving the actresses to carry its emotional weight. Fortunately, ion has two company members and a director who are up to the task.
Based on workshops that Ms. Moss conducted with women prisoners, This Wide Night, focuses on Marie (Rhianna Basore) and Lorraine (Yolanda Franklin), who were cellmates in prison. Marie got out first and has a dirty, messy, studio flat in a pretty marginal neighborhood. Lorraine arrives on Marie’s doorstep right after having been released from a lengthy prison sentence. Marie doesn’t answer her door immediately, but eventually she welcomes Lorraine.
Lorraine makes it seem as though she has living arrangements, but she really doesn’t. A request to sleep over one night leads to a more permanent sharing of the flat.
Neither of the two women are completely trusting, and both withhold information from the other for self-protection. The prison culture may have something to do with it, but we’re not sure.
In fact, we’re not sure about quite a few things, which makes the play feel flimsy. But, once out of the production’s immediate pull, thinking about what we don’t know leads to a whole host of unanswered questions. Clearly, Ms. Moss wants her audience to watch closely and fill in the gaps with imaginings of its own. That was exactly the conversation my guest and I had following the performance, and who knows whether we got the unspoken details of the plot right?
Yet, an emotional bond clearly grows between the women, and despite each’s trust issues a real caring eventually develops. Once the emotions are let out, though, the floodgates open – and not always productively for the relationship that has evolved.
Director Claudio Raygoza is wonderful with exploring texts with actors. In fact, this is the sort of play that ion Theatre loves to produce, one where the audience is caught up in the actors’ choices, rather than a play about people we might prefer not to spend time with.
Both actors are fine in terms of the choices they make and the portrayals to which those choices lead, but Ms. Franklin stands out for creating the more complete performance. Her character is a mix of strength and weakness, of suppressed and extravagantly expressed, emotions. [php snippet=1]Mr. Raygoza is also responsible for the production (other than costumes, which are the province of Mary Summerday and which become important elements in understanding both of these characters). His designs evoke the crowded, almost prison-like, living conditions that drive these women’s motivations. And, the 49-seat BlkBox theatre brings the audience in close to the action. There’s no place to hide here, and that’s the way the playwright (and, ultimately, the audience) would prefer it.
Ultimately, This Wide Night provides an emotional catharsis and a sense of hopelessness that might prove to be difficult to overcome. The real tragedy, of course, is that prisoners are released without understanding what “the outside world” is going to be like, and what sorts of lives the newly-emancipated will be faced with simply living.
The ion company is spending a good part of the upcoming season developing new plays for possible presentation in an off-Broadway theatre this coming summer. The workshop process means that there will be no further reviews of ion productions until next April or May. This Wide Night provides a memento of what ion can be and a foreshadowing of what it may emerge from the intensive work its company is promising to do over the next several months. If you want to follow what’s going on at ion, the best way to do so is to “like” the company’s Facebook page, at https://www.facebook.com/ion.theatre.