Edie Falco, Alison Pill
Freedom, it seems, can be even more daunting than imprisonment, conjectures Chlo Moss’s new play This Wide Night, the winner of the 2009 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for woman playwrights. At rise, we find Marie (Alison Pill), a young ex-prisoner, curled up in the fetal position in an armchair in her London flat, startled by a knock at the door; it’s her former cellmate, middle-aged Lorraine (Edie Falco).
Lorraine’s arrival startles Marie. Though the two got along when they were sharing a cell (Marie even came to the prison to visit Lorraine after she got out), eventually Marie lost the nerve to continue revisiting her past. Now Lorraine’s on the outside too, striking out on her own. She needs a job and a place to live, and Marie agrees to put her up for the night.
Matt Frey’s excellent lighting signals the passage of time over the course of several successive nights. Marie works at a pub now – or so she says – and offers to put in a good word for Lorraine. Lorraine hopes she’ll be able to reconnect with her son. A social worker has encouraged her to get in touch with him, and he responds shortly after her arrival at Marie’s flat.
As the play progresses, the relationship between the two is slowly revealed and the stories they tell each other prove to be less and less reliable. Moss’s gift as a playwright is to be able to make us utterly relate to their circumstances while presenting both Marie and Lorraine as flawed, deeply human characters.
If, occasionally, the play seems more a character study than a well-plotted drama, Falco and Pill provide such deeply layered performances that it hardly matters. Credit is due to Edie Falco for continuing her stage career in a production in such a small theatre that, in addition, finds Falco wearing little or no makeup, clad mostly in sweatsuits. The two ex-inmates transition from an uneasy friendship to codependency, eventually coming to blows after a night of drinking and dancing and coming clean about their lives. Though they’re free now and able to start their lives again, jobs for recent releases are hardly easy to come by.
Moss did research in a women’s prison before writing the play for Clean Break Theatre Company in London, a company that focuses on new writing about women whose lives have been affected by the criminal justice system. Her research has allowed her to write fully textured characters, but Moss has wisely made the decision not to allow her research to overwhelm her characters’ individual struggles. Never do we as an audience feel preached to. Instead, we’re left to encounter the lives of these two women and experience a number of days and nights in their lives.