Spend the Night in Jail @ American Theater of Actors, New York

cast list
Gregg Enbrecht, Kerry Fitzgibbons, John Paul Harkins, Richard Hymes-Esposito, Raul Sigmund Julia, Lisa McDonough, Kevin McGraw

directed by
Robert Haufrecht, Richard Hymes-Esposito
Spend the Night in Jail is the thematic title for a theatrical evening of two one-act plays, Hello Out There by William Saroyan and Deathwatch by Jean Genet. Both plays are set in a single jail cell and look at the dynamics of individuals trying to connect emotionally, even as one character in each is certain he is facing death. However, there is less commonality between the two than you expect.

Hello Out There was written in 1941 and is the story of a man accused of raping a married woman. He admits to the intercourse, but claims it was consensual until she demanded payment. The man has been moved to another city to protect him from being lynched, although he expects the mob will find him soon enough. The jailhouse cook and janitor, a delicate and emotional marooned young woman, is drawn to him. Richard Hymes-Espositio and Kerry Fitzgibbons play the couple and are able to establish a believable connection very quickly. Mr. Hymes-Espositio plays a slick hustler and Ms. Fitzgibbons is desperate to believe there is some way out of her life, a dead-end road though she’s only sixteen.
As written, the drama should come from the dichotomy between the time it takes to gain the girl’s trust and the rapid rate at which time is running out for our inmate protagonist. But it doesn’t. The drifter never seems rushed as he tries to win over the girl; his entreaties of Hurry are just words without a lot of feeling or action behind them. The audience doesnt feel that doom is approaching. Ultimately, the audience doesnt buy into the stakes of this game.

But if Hello Out There is detached from the audience, it isnt from lack of trying. On the other hand, the second play, Deathwatch, is incomprehensible. Deathwatch was written in 1944 in French by Jean Genet. It attempts to be a study in masculinity, relationships and betrayal in prison. Due either to the translation or because the original play is dated, it does not succeed. Two young prisoners, John Paul Harkins and Greg Engbrecht, struggle for the admiration and attention of the cell-block boss Raul Sigmund Julia, who faces death for his offenses in two weeks.

There is a lot of running around, some fights and torrents of existential ramblings by the characters, but none of it connects. Without a grasp of these characters or even their motivations, their fights, taunts and screams are meaningless to the audience. Their interplay and discussions are not easy to follow, labored as they are by references to free will, duplicity and the hierarchy of evil deeds. Director Richard Hymes-Espositio (the drifter in Hello Out There) directs this show and plays up the action in order to keep the audiences attention. It works for a while, but ultimately we dont care what these characters are saying; no amount of stage fighting can hide that.

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