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Monday, 12 November 2012 22:01

The ties that bind

Written by Bob Wilcox
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L-R: Rachel Hanks as Marie and Jane Abling as Lorraine
L-R: Rachel Hanks as Marie and Jane Abling as Lorraine westendplayers.org / John Lamb

A lot of terrific acting happens in English playwright Chloe Moss's This Wide Night on the West End Players Guild's stage in the Union Avenue Christian Church. Things can get pretty intense in the 90 minutes or so of this two-character play.

Marie and Lorraine shared a cell in an English prison. Marie has been out for a while. Lorraine has just gotten out after a twelve-year sentence. Marie is young. Lorraine is older – in fact, she has a son about Marie's age. We can see moments of a mother-daughter relationship between them.

We can see a lot more in the five days after Lorraine first links up in London with her former cell mate. Both are trying to negotiate a post-prison life. Marie has been trying for a while, not too successfully, we discover. Lorraine is just starting. She hopes to re-connect with her son, raised by adoptive parents after she went to prison. She wants a job – not easy to find for someone with a prison record and few skills. Both want to be independent. But both find a refuge in clinging to the relationship that grew between them in prison. They want to move beyond it in a new life, and they want to keep it as the only human contact they can trust.
As I said, these conflicting desires can lead to some heated moments. I didn't find that they led to much more than that as we watch the expected victories and reversals inherent in their situation. The activity seemed desultory at times.

But that was between explosions. Marie, with her wide and sudden mood swings, seems the more complicated of the two, and Rachel Hanks gives full measure to the contrasts between violent outbursts and retreats into protective, fetal postures, arms wrapped about herself. Hanks radiates an intensity that reminded me of the young Brando.

Jane Abling's Lorraine appears easier to read and easier to like. She doesn't ask for your sympathy, she probably wants you to think she doesn't need it, but she earns it. Abling's performance balances admirably with Hanks's.

Director Sean Belt undoubtedly has something to do with the success of that balance. Robert Ashton served so successfully as dialect coach that I sometimes wished for supertitles to help me with the thick working-class English accents; Abling in particular had a nice feel for the rhythms and melody of her character's speech.

Tim Grumich's set has the worn look of a cheap London studio apartment. Lisa Haselhorst's costumes provide smart observations about the contrasts between the two women. Tony Anselmo designed the lights and Chuck Lavazzi the sound.

I wish the script for This Wide Night dug as deeply into these two women as the actors do.

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