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And I And Silence
I suspect that you will also be in awe (as I was) of the sheer beauty of the text , in part poetic and lyrical and in part salty, earthy prose. This tough, tender and tragic story is set in the decade spanning the 1950s in a city in the US. Commendably it satisfies more than one's need to be simply captivated by a good story and good acting.
The action follow the path of its sixteen year old Dee and seventeen year-old Jamie after their release from prison. The four women who play the two roles give impressively complimentary performances, with laudable reflections of both their younger and older selves. Rachel Nicks plays the older black Jamie and Trae Harris is her younger self; Samantha Soule plays the older white Dee and Emil Skeggs is her younger self.
The play's clever structure is made distinctive by the way Jamie and Dee relate to each other with words that have the resonance of poetry but that still bite and sting as in a gritty kitchen sink drama. And except for its sad and shattering resolution, it is a rapturously unromantic romance.
While Dee is serving time for stabbing her abusive father, Jamie was wrongly convicted for participating in a crime that involved a gun. Their prison time is amusingly dramatized through a series of furtive meetings that inaugurate some funny exchanges. At first suspicious and cautious about letting the aggressive and undeterred Dee into her space, Jamie finally relents seeing there is no dissuading her.
If there is emotional uncertainty in their feelings, it doesn't keep Jamie from teaching Dee the fine art of cleaning a house so they can work as a team when they get out. One of the funniest moments has Dee trying to mimic Jamie's over-the-top/la-di-da cleaning technique. Dee begins to see the value of learning a useful trade when they are finally released.
Wallace lets us follow the course of the relationship up to the point where there is no going back. Under the fine direction of Caitlin McLeod the action moves rapidly back and forth between a shabby room in the city in 1959 and back to the prison cell in the early 1950s.
The circumstances in which they find themselves in the city are anything but conducive to manifesting dreams. They confront the color barrier and overt bigotry that makes it impossible for them to be seen walking together. The reality of their abject poverty and lack of food is bundled in with the sexual humiliation from the men in the households where they are employed.
This is a heavy load of social, political and personal issues for any drama to contain and sustain in only ninety minutes. Yet each scene is fueled and fortified by the unsettling emotional content that defines and drives the desperate Jamie and Dee from one day to the next. They suddenly become acutely aware of how dependent upon each other they are, but more poignantly of how integrated their bodies and souls have become.
The single raised setting designed by Rachel Hauck easily transforms from a cell to the pathetic room they call home with the actors basically just moving the bed. The audience is seated in tiers on two sides of the stage. Sight lines are perfect for all. The actors move unobtrusively into the space being vacated by the others making fluid transitions from the one place to the other.
While it is never the job of a critic to re-write a play, I would have preferred a more hopeful and less depressing ending than the one Wallace gives us. . . but getting there is, nevertheless, a powerful and moving experience.