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An Opening in Time
h the play, but I also wanted to suggest to them that the play was my attempt to confront my own pain. At the time I began conceiving of the play, I was dealing with illness and for whatever reason had profound memories of my childhood landscapes."
Although Thomas Wolfe wisely observed that "you can't go home again," few writers have paid heed to his warning. With regularity, playwrights and novelists transport their first-person selves or their characters back to home, where "it" first started — or didn't. "Home," where a Pandora's Box filled with possible answers to the haunting "what ifs" of life awaits the unsettled traveler.
Christopher Shinn's new play, An Opening in Time, which recently opened at Hartford Stage, is just such a bittersweet convergence of the past and present. Shinn, a native of Hartford sets his play in a small Connecticut town that resembles Wethersfield where he grew up. Despite his assertion that his play is not literally autobiographical, he admits that the conflicts and traumas the characters grapple with are familiar to him.
An Opening . . . is a slight play filled with affection for the minutia of small town life and its inhabitants. If it doesn't rise to any significant dramatic level, it is sweetly sympathetic to the emotions of is characters and their dreams, realized and dashed.
Played on a picture postcard setting designed by Antje Ellermann that would be the envy of any small town Chamber of Commerce, the designer has opted for a series of "pop-up sets" to indicate different locations in the town. The effect is too busy by half. However the basic New England look with its scraggly tree tops and simple white houses is right on target.
Anne (Deborah Hedwall, warm and exuding serenity) is a widowed, retired schoolteacher who has come back to her roots with a dual purpose. First, to bond with her troubled son Sam (an excellently twisty Karl Miller), who has issues that would have been expected in Peyton Place rather than here. Secondly, to reunite with the hesitant, somewhat cranky Ron (Patrick Clear), an old lover and fellow schoolteacher.
Now divorced, Ron's life revolves around meals taken at the local café ruled by no nonsense waitress Anetta (Kati Brazda), and directing the school musicals, with Rent currently underway. The how and why of Anne and Ron's separation years ago and whose fault it was is at the crux of their "reunion." Each remembers the events differently. Will blame spoil a possible reconciliation?
Adding local color, and raising a few questions about their motives, are Kim (Molly Camp), Anne's neighbor; Frank (Bill Christ), Ron's buddy and sharer of meals; George (Brandon Smalls) a hostile teenager and a local detective (Mike Keller), who drops by to try to figure out who keeps breaking the windows in Anne's house, and why.
Under Oliver Butler's smooth direction, the cast proves most winning, even if their characters range from near stereotype to just vaguely mysterious. Hedwall and Clear carry the evenin. We're slowly drawn into their emotional touch and go, but not quite sure whether there is a future for them or simply a shared past. Sometimes there are no second chances.
Shinn's work possesses some of the subtlety and ephemeral mists found in the plays of William Inge and Horton Foote. Not bad company.