Do you see me? Do you hear me? Do I matter? These essential questions are what lie at the core of human experience and connection. They remain absolute even when everything else may be uncertain, especially the relative nature of time and space. We look up and suddenly the room has become so small, or mere seconds feel like lifetimes and vise versa. In the flux of all of our realities, what proves consistent is the human quest for a validated existence. We need to know that as time and space evolve around us, what we do and who we are carries significance. Maiya Reaves and Beth Ritson tap directly into such inquisitions with raw subtlety and emotional impact in Paper Lantern Theatre’s This Wide Night at Triad Stage.
Although the play is gritty and remains highly riveting, the most eventful moments are delivered with exposition. This approach to the story illuminates that the same is true for ex- cellmates Marie (Reaves) and Lorraine (Ritson), reuniting in London with, presumably, the apex of their lives behind them.
Lorraine, 50, has recently been released from prison, where she has spent the last 12 years. The reunion with Marie, a younger woman who had a shorter sentence and is now residing in a deeply depressing studio, once seemed to the women “a speck in the distance.” However, now that the event has finally transpired, the women seem to fumble with how to navigate life and each other outside of the juridical system. There is an uneasiness as they search for their once intimate rapport. As the play unfolds, with both characters having to face the challenges of being free such as tending to old relationships and financial independence, the complex maternal bond between them is restored.
This Wide Night, originally staged in London in 2008, was commissioned by the Clean Break Theater Company -- founded by previously incarcerated women -- to shed light on the ramifications of the UK penal system. Playwright Chloe Moss spent her writer’s residency in a prison in Kent, England to gather the authentic materials from which the play was conceived.
Moss’ script is substantially character conscious, with aggressive, profane language and heart-wrenching monologues, yet is neglectful of overall story. Slow-moving and action-less plotlines, if in any other hands than Ritson’s and Reaves’, could very easily plague the 90-minute play. Both actors were able to maintain a pace that was entertaining and unpredictable. Ritson’s approach to her character is physically and emotionally thought out. She captures the hardened loss of femininity that can be common after years of incarceration, while still remaining vulnerable and expressive. Reaves plays Marie with a youthful defensiveness and a sexual detachment of a motherless daughter searching for guidance.
The production is enhanced immensely by a wonderful set design which provides an effective use of space, allowing the audience to feel present in the room. The tightness and griminess of the quarters reflects the symbolic equivalence of the characters’ previous cell.
It is to the credit of Paper Lantern Theatre Company that the most pivotal facet of the production shines through, two women without a handle of time or space longing for connection and meaning. This Wide Night is a play about us all.
This Wide Night continues through Sunday, May 26. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.