Rewind, a powerful multimedia production presented Dec. 1st as part of the ArtsCenter’s Hidden Voices series, is a cautionary tale: the real-life story of Regina Walters, a tall, thin, pretty former junior-high cheerleader and aspiring ballerina who in January 1995 at age 19 became North Carolina prison inmate #0423358, convicted of second-degree murder in a Charlotte, NC courtroom and sentenced to 35 years in state prison. ArtsCenter Stage artistic director Lynden W. Harris, who first met Walters while she was a member of the N.C. Women’s Prison Repertory Ensemble, became intrigued with Walters’ story; conducted a series of interviews with Walters after her parole, after 11 years in prison; and developed Rewind from the tape transcripts.
Harris combined with co-scenic designers Tracey Broome and Eric Davis, photographer and image designer Ellen Ozier, and production designer Ben Davis, to create a striking pictorial backdrop for Rewind, employing poignant snapshots from the Walters family scrapbook — and timely slide projections of those photos — to illustrate this heart-rending story of an at-risk child from a broken home on the wrong side of the tracks — an abused child who at age 13 fled her drunken and physically abusive mother and quickly descended into a life of drugs and alcohol, promiscuous sex, and increasingly more serious crime.
Playwright Lynden Harris and director Kathryn Hunter Williams cast two actresses, Hope Hynes and Jeri Lynn Schulke, to reenact the sordid events that ended in Walters’ incarceration, key episodes from her imprisonment, and the spiritual regeneration that she experienced in prison that eventually led to her parole and current job with Presbyterian Prison Ministry in Raleigh.
Triangle theater veteran Hope Hynes mostly plays Regina Walters from age 9 to age 30 in a passionate, deeply felt performance that is one of the best of the season; and Jeri Lynn Schulke smoothly segues from role to role to role, playing almost all the other parts, male and female, and once again demonstrates her versatility and power as one of the area’s finest actresses. Together, these two actresses, dramatist Lynden Harris, and director Kathryn Williams — who also combined with Rick Lonon to provide voiceovers to punctuate the performance — earned a standing ovation from a packed house last Friday night. After Regina Walters joined them onstage for a brief talkback with the audience, there was another standing ovation.
The brilliance of Lynden Harris’ unflinching dissection of the sordid forces that put Regina Walters in prison and the spiritual turnabout that led to her parole and the power of director Kathryn Williams’ provocative staging — plus compelling characterizations by Hope Hynes and Jeri Lynn Schulke — virtually dictate that this “Former Inmate’s View of her Fractured Past and Uncertain Future,” will be revived again and again as an eye-opening lesson, particularly for younger audience members growing up in similar high-risk environments.
Meanwhile, some excerpts from Regina Walters’ opening monologue, as delivered by Hope Hynes, will have to suffice:
I spent many years in dark rooms, some I was forced into, some I created myself.... I was a bright girl caught in some very dark rooms.… Instead of living my life, I let my life live me.”
Later on, Regina adds, “If you liked junior high, you’re going to love prison.” So, there is humor in Rewind, but most of it is gallows humor. All in all, Regina Walters earns high praise for letting some of her worst decisions and some of her most intimate moments be dramatized as a lesson to others. The Dec. 1st ArtsCenter audience can only hope that the therapeutic power of reliving a life ill spent will help Regina Walters in her continuing recovery from a nightmarish childhood, followed by a series of bad decisions as a teenager that could have kept her in prison until age 54.
The ArtsCenter: http://www.artscenterlive.org/.