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
I don’t think I’ve seen or read very many of A.R. Gurney’s plays. So I didn’t know quite what to expect with The Wayside Motor Inn, currently onstage at the Signature. Let me just say that I flipping love the Signature because of their $25 tickets and their fantastic space. I mean, come on! They have a huge bar and a great bookstore plus several theaters! I didn’t order a beer last night, but I wouldn’t have felt guilty even if I did, because the ticket was so affordable. Not to mention the terrific shows they often put on over there. This year A.R. Gurney is one of the playwrights in residence at the Signature, and this play is a pretty good indication of why people like him so much.
It takes place in a bland hotel room in Boston in 1978. Ten characters walk in and spend the next few hours talking, arguing, trying to please each other, getting feelings hurt, forgiving each other. You get the picture. What makes The Wayside Motor Inn especially interesting is that these ten people are actually in five different rooms. Essentially, this show is five plays rolled into one, all taking place simultaneously. Many of the characters are onstage throughout: salesman Ray, for example, eats his dinner in front of the TV while a pair of college students try to connect physically, a divorcing couple split up their belongings, or a father and son clash about Harvard.
To be honest I’m a total sucker for this kind of theatrical trick. (“They’re in the same space, except they’re not! Theater is so cool!”) But The Wayside Motor Inn is also a very easy play to like. The stories are accessible, since they deal with fairly universal themes. You get several stages of couplehood: young love, divorce, old age. And a few parent-child conflicts as well. I wouldn’t say all the stories are equally interesting: college students Phil and Sally, for example, are a bit unsatisfying as characters and never all that dramatically compelling. And I could have done without the pat endings to some of the stories. But I did really like the older couple’s struggles (wonderfully portrayed by Jon DeVries and Lizbeth Mackay). And Jenn Lyon as the loopy waitress Sharon was just hilarious.
In any case, this very strong production definitely has me interested to see the remaining productions in A.R. Gurney’s residency. And I couldn’t stop myself from buying a ticket to another one of the Signature’s shows next week. (For just $25!) You just keep doing what you’re doing, Siggy.
My Grade: B
Running Time: 2 hours
Ticket price: $32 ($25 plus fees)
Worth it: Yes
Standing Ovation Watch: I can’t remember! But I don’t think so.