Let’s get right into this, because I didn’t much care for And I and Silence at the Signature. It’s a new play from Signature playwright-in-residence Naomi Wallace. A 1997 New York Times article pegged her as largely unknown in America. I’m sure that’s changed by this point, but she was still unknown to me until last night. (Frequently the case with playwrights, as you may have noticed. How am I supposed to keep track of all these people?) The play itself is a harrowing and sad prison drama. Dee (Emily Skeggs) and Jamie (Trae Harris) make friends as young girls in a 1950s prison and vow to live better lives; meanwhile we see just how difficult it is for them years later when they’re actually trying to make it out there in the real world. The adult Dee and Jamie are played by Samantha Soule and Rachel Nicks, respectively. They’re both parlormaids in the postwar South, and have to deal with racism, leery bosses, and perennial poverty. Jamie (who is black) and Dee (who is white) have an extraordinarily close relationship, and it seems even in prison it was based to some degree on attraction.
And I and Silence is an endlessly bleak play: it doesn’t offer you much in the way of laughs or a hopeful ending, that’s for sure. Now, bleak doesn’t necessarily turn me off. No, the bigger problem is that this show feels muddled. The characters spend too much time talking about what doesn’t feel terribly important, and not enough time on major motivations and plot points. I felt distanced and confused throughout much of the play. A show that seems to want to be a searing portrait of poverty and loneliness is instead a heavy, draggy show about misery.
And it may just have been where I was sitting, but I also found some of it hard to understand. All four actresses speak in thick Southern accents and frequently face away from you (because the theater is set up in traverse, with the audience facing each other on either side of the stage). At the end of the show, I heard lots of fellow audience members say the same thing. But then to be fair these people were older, and old audience members are usually grumpy about acoustics.
My Grade: C-
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Ticket price: $25
Worth it: No, but it was worth a shot at that price point
Standing Ovation Watch: No