A slow, eventless play about two inarticulate women, one of them a murderer, struggling to re-establish a friendship forged in prison? Don’t try this at home, kids — but if you should be so bold, let two brilliant actors, Edie Falco and Alison Pill, show you how to pull it off. Commissioned and first produced by Clean Break, a London-based company that works with women in the prison system, “This Wide Night” won the 2008 Susan Smith Blackburn Award for Chloe Moss. Ragged and raw, this naturalistic two-hander needs the warming touch of two superb thesps to reveal its soft underbelly.
Naked Angels, which was prescient enough to give us “Next Fall” last summer, once more confirms its rep for preferring solid substance over flashy style. Scribe Moss presents a bold, blunt, utterly unsentimental view of life on the outside for two women who were more or less forced into friendship as prison cellmates — and helmer Anne Kauffman (“Stunning”) wisely doesn’t try to pretty it up.
Rachel Hauck’s fastidiously dressed set of a severely ugly and deeply depressing one-room flat tells us a lot about Marie (Pill), a pretty young woman with dead eyes who is rolled up in a fetal crouch watching a broken TV set when we first lay eyes on her. Pill (“The Miracle Worker”) will throw on several tough-and-trashy outfits (nice shopping from costumer Emily Rebholz) to take Marie to work at a local pub. But in thesp’s super-subtle perf, you have to look beneath the sluttish armor and read the body language to get her message — which is basically “Back off.”
Watching those wary eyes, it becomes clear that, although Marie has been badly bruised, she’s developed a tough hide since getting out of the slammer. Tough enough to handle those louts at the pub. Tough enough to barter sex with the landlord to pay the rent. Tough enough to lie her way out of situations she can’t bring herself to talk about.
But not tough enough to hide from her old prison cellmate, Lorraine (Falco), who arrives unexpectedly one night looking like hell.
Falco (“Nurse Jackie”) gives everything she’s got in a physically meticulous perf that also starts at eye level (hers look like empty bullet casings) and works its way down the body. From the slumped shoulders, shaky pins and overall air of defeat, it’s obvious that Lorraine is defenseless, without the emotional resources to even step outside this squalid room. “I don’t feel ready,” she says, in one of this difficult play’s rare eloquent moments.
What passes for action is the push-pull of the friendship between these two women, crippled by the fear that keeps them from spilling their guts and asking directly for the help they desperately need. What makes this emotional stasis so watchable are the amazing performances, which obliquely explore both the depths and the limits of these tough, foul-mouthed, but oh-so-vulnerable women.
Slow to get going, stingy with the talk, this is not an actor-proof play. But it’s a play that actors would kill to be in.