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And I and Silence

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Photograph: Matthew Murphy
And I and Silence
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Photograph: Matthew Murphy
And I and Silence
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Photograph: Matthew Murphy
And I and Silence
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Photograph: Matthew Murphy
And I and Silence
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Photograph: Matthew Murphy
And I and Silence
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Photograph: Matthew Murphy
And I and Silence

And I and Silence. Pershing Square Signature Center (see Off Broadway). By Naomi Wallace. Directed by Caitlin McLeod. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission.

And I and Silence: In brief

This new play by Naomi Wallace (Things of Dry Hours) tracks two young women in the 1950s, one black and one white, who form a bond as teenagers in prison but find that life is no easier as free adults. Caitlin McLeod directs the cast of four (Trae Harris, Emily Skeggs, Rachel Nicks and Samantha Soule).

And I and Silence: Theater review by David Cote

As they serve time in 1950, young Dee (Emily Skeggs) has a surefire way to ingratiate herself with fellow inmate Jamie (Trae Harris). Dee offers Jamie a honey drop, which the latter accepts warily. Nine years later, both have been released, and now the older Dee (Samantha Soule) tries to placate Jamie (Rachel Nicks) with a piece of candy corn. In a similar way, playwright Naomi Wallace sprinkles some sugar—flashes of humor and the odd rhyming couplet—into her bitter, leather-tough period drama, And I and Silence, to keep us hooked. She needs the sweetener, since this blunt and hopeless tale dries up your mouth as you chew it.

This is a grim tale of women ground down by the world: first in prison, then on the outside by poverty and racism (Jamie is black, Dee is white). Scenes alternate between 1950 and ’59. The women resist their tragic lot through friendship and manual labor. After jail, they switch a cell for an equally cramped rented room, from which they work as house cleaners. In a Genet-like touch, Wallace has them role-play master and servant, with the predictable whiff of sexual tension.

This is a very worthy poetic piece, fervently acted and gracefully directed (by Caitlin McLeod) that still leaves you unsatisfied. Wallace keeps her focus tight, for better and worse. On the plus side, we spend 90 minutes getting acquainted with two sympathetic protagonists and Wallace's language has much rich, colloquial beauty. On the negative side, her scenes are fragmentary and cloistered, lacking a larger context to judge the women’s actions or options. What’s left is a small, gritty sketch that has the feel of an allegory or fable but not enough moral complexity or liberating lyricism. You need more than roughage for a nourishing meal.—Theater review by David Cote

THE BOTTOM LINE Women do hard time in this virtuous but dry period tragedy, and you will too.

Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote

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Event website: http://signaturetheatre.org

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RM

This play was hilarious, beautiful, and heartbreaking.  Such an original story. It's one of those shows that sticks with you for a few hours after you see it.