by Lynn on March 6, 2012

in The Passionate Playgoer

l-r Claire Burns, Astrid Van Wieren

At the Red Sandcastle Theatre, 922 Queen St. East, (near Logan). Written by Chloë Moss. Directed by Jon Michaelson. Designed by Lindsay Anne Black. Sound by Mike Conley and Emily Derr. Lighting by Colin Harris.

Produced by Mermaid Parade with support from Mercury Stage Productions.

Tenacious is the watchword for everybody involved in this project. I first saw THIS WIDE NIGHT in its Canadian premiere production when it played at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace last year. It’s now moved to a site-specific ‘theatre’ in a Queen Street East store front. The location and rough and ready aspect of the space adds to the grittiness of this already gritty play.

In THIS WIDE NIGHT playwright Chloë Moss looks at two women as they struggle to cope with being outside prison in England. Lorraine and Marie were cellmates when they both did time in prison. They shared secrets, raw emotions, histories and in a sense intimacies. Lorraine is old enough to be Marie’s mother. Whether their relationship was sexual or not is not as important as the fact that they depended and trusted each other.

The play opens with Marie watching television in her dingy, cramped apartment. She has been released from prison long enough to have a job, an apartment and the most basic of possibilities. Lorraine has been in prison longer—why is eventually revealed. When she is released the first place she goes is to her friend Marie’s. She’s tried to contact Marie but her phone doesn’t work. The hope is that Marie will take Lorraine in for a short time until she gets sorted out.

The reunion is a happy one for Lorraine and a bit unsettled for Marie. Marie is twitchy, fidgety, impatient. Lorraine seems to be the worrier, concerned for Marie at all times, almost like a mother-hen. Perhaps Marie’s taste of freedom has made her impatient when Lorraine wants to revert to their ways in prison—together with one looking out for the other.

Each has her secrets. Lorraine is trying to reunite with her son who she gave up for adoption. Marie has her own secrets too. Playwright Moss is very stingy with information about the two. What provoked Lorraine’s crime? Why was Marie in jail? But Moss gives us just enough information for us to fill in the blanks while we keep guessing and questioning.

She has painted a world that is as small as Marie’s studio apartment. Lorraine has to check in with the authorities in order to start her life ‘outside.’ She has a certain optimism as long as Marie is there. Marie on the other hand has had difficulties. Trouble follows her. Progress in her life is measured in steps of inches, if that. As in prison, both women only seem to have each other. Something that is mundane to us—a new blouse—is almost cause for celebration for Lorraine and Marie.

Moss has presented us with a world that is bleak, and I sense, real. She takes us into a world one rarely knows about—the life of a woman just out of prison. How do they cope? How do they remain brave and tenacious?

Jon Michaelson’s direction also adds to that bleak, yet vivid world. For 90 minutes we are in that world too. The women are rarely still—as if exploring their new-found-freedom, flitting here and there in the apartment, commenting on and getting enjoyment from watching the odd man next door.

As Lorraine, Astrid Van Wieren is very energetic, almost urgent in her movements and concern for Marie. There is a sense of desperation to hang on and get a grip, as well as to keep on Marie’s good side so she can stay with her in the apartment. It’s a very compelling performance.

Equally as compelling in her performance is Claire Burns as Marie. She has her own tics and idocyncracies. Marie is the more mysterious of the two women because we know so little about how she has coped. When we find out her job situation is not as secure as she is letting on, we get a sense at how much Marie has been sliding since she got out of prison.

Both Van Wieren and Burns work beautifully together, creating that tenuous, careful, tentative world of these two fragile, damaged women.

While Lorraine and Marie are hard-nosed British woman (bravo to these Canadian actresses for nailing the less than posh accents), the story could be about anywhere. THIS WIDE NIGHT is a tough play, well done.

THIS WIDE NIGHT plays at the Red Sandcastle Theatre, 922 Queen Street East until March 17.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Anne Tait March 17, 2012 at 4:30 pm

So perceptive of you to trumpet the power of this play [This Wide Night] and these performances —
I saw it just last night and its effect is long-lasting.
I think the script needs a climax – maybe make Lorraine’s hopes higher, and more unrealistic, for that 2nd meeting with her son – wanting to make a life with him and Marie [maybe as a couple!] and herself.
Glad to find your review online because I didn’t see any in the press. Was it on radio?
What a brave production group. Better script and acting than in many larger theatres.
Anne Tait
film producer, writer.


2 Lynn Slotkin March 18, 2012 at 1:36 am

Dear Ms Tait,

Thanks for your comments. I think the ordinariness of their lives, just scratching out a living without unrealistic hope is what makes it powerful. Because it opened on a Friday, I didn’t review it on CIUT 89.5 FM because those reviews are always on Friday morning, and to wait a week was too long. I only put it on the blog. CBC of course and Classical 93.6 don’t have reviews any more alas.