BWW Reviews: AND I AND SILENCE Considers The Prison Life of Free Women
Naomi Wallace's intimate drama, And I And Silence, has one of those titles that sends a theatre critic attempting some pre-performance preparation scurrying through the Internet to see if it might be some kind of literary reference.
Impressively, a Google search results in page upon page of articles about Wallace's play, which was commissioned by a London theatre company to tour prisons, before you get to a couple of links that show the phrase is lifted from Emily Dickenson's poem, "I Felt a Funeral, In My Brain."
I'll leave it you, dear readers, to interpret any further connections.
With the audience observing from two sides, Rachel Hauck's appropriately bleak set, lit in evocative sepia tones by Bradley King, doubles as a prison cell and a modest city dwelling, "somewhere in the U.S.A.," during the 1950's.
Both rooms are inhabited by Jamie and Dee, though at different times of their lives. 17-year-old Jamie (Trae Harris), who is black, and 16-year-old Dee (Emily Skeggs), who is white, meet while serving time for acts of survival. Naïve and impressionable Dee risks punishment by sneaking into the tough and determined Jamie's cell in the black section of the segregated prison.
They dream of better lives working as maids and role-play their carefree futures as adolescent girls might do.
But alternating with their scenes are moments with Dee (Samantha Soule) and Jamie (Rachel Nicks) as women in their mid-twenties, struggling with the prison of being women on their own without job skills or marriage prospects. They can't even walk the streets together without being harassed.
The contrast between the youthful optimism they express while in jail and the harsh struggle once they're free is what drives the play at its best moments, and the strong ensemble, under Caitlin McLeod's direction, capably handles the playwright's transitions from realistic language to more poetic passages.
But Wallace's narrative seems stretched during the ninety-minute piece and, being a two-character play, too many plot points are described rather than seen.
Still, And I And Silence, which is the first production of Signature Theater Company's season dedicated to Naomi Wallace, is an interesting effort in the best sense of the word. And since Signature charges less for a top-notch Off-Broadway production than the price of a student rush ticket on Broadway, an interesting effort can be a very attractive option.