At the Remy Bumppo Theatre
By Dan Zeff
Chicago – Debbie Tucker Green is a rising British playwright for the new millennium who spells her name in all lower case letters (debbie tucker green). She also uses lower case for “hang,” the one word title of her 2015 drama that takes an unsettling look at crime and punishment.
The play, now at the Remy Bumppo Theater, unfolds gradually and many patrons will be frustrated and confused by the elusive dialogue and storyline. The show runs 90 minutes without an intermission and for a large number of those minutes viewers may struggle to gain a foothold on what exactly is happening on the intimate Remy Bumppo stage.
The playbill lists the time of the action as “Nearly now.” No site is given. The entire show is presented in an anonymous room illuminated by florescent lights. The furniture consists of several generic IKEA-ish chairs, with a coffee machine standing in the background.
The three characters are simply designated as 1, 2, and 3. Characters 1 and 2 apparently are bureaucratic functionaries, with 1 the leader and 2 sort of dithering along, providing occasional comedy relief. The third character is a woman brought in to meet with 1 and 2. To cut to the narrative chase, the meeting is being held because 3 and her family have been victims of some terrible crime. The crime is unspecified and left to the viewer’s imagination, but we eventually learn that the perpetrator will be executed. The meeting is being held so 3 can select the type of capital punishment to be inflicted on the unseen criminal.
This plot summary is extracted from many long minutes of elusive interchanges between an angry and hostile 3 and the diffident and ostentatiously helpful and sympathetic 1 and 2. The play is dominated by 3, especially as performed by Patrese D. McClain in one of the most intense pieces of acting I’ve seen in a long time. McClain’s silences are fraught with unspoken tension and hostility and her dialogue is a dazzling blend of scorn, grief, bitterness, resentment, and ultimately, stress verging on despair. The play may be tough going for the audience even with McClain’s brilliant portrayal. A lesser performance would have turned the production into an opaque bore.
“hang” ends with 3 sitting at the table, silently reading a letter written by the person to be executed and addressed to her. We don’t learn the contents of the letter but 3’s tormented reaction as she reads it will chill the audience.
The play suffers from the two-dimensional portraits of the functionaries. They constantly strain to make 3 comfortable and at ease with repeated offers of a beverage or the offer of bringing in a friend or relative to buck her up. Buy their do-gooder gestures are lame and just add fuel to 3’s turbulent emotions. Both Eleni Pappageorge (1) and Annabel Armour (2) do what they can with their simplistic roles. But 3 is not to be pacified with hospitality and the potency of McClain’s performance put the other two actors in the dramatic shade for much of the evening.
Armour does command the stage late in the play with her non-nonsense survey of the punishment options opened to 3’s selection—hanging, electric chair, beheading, firing squad, etc. Armour’s brisk descriptions of the various death devices are actually comical in a black humor manner and by the end of the show spectators were in serious need of something to laugh about, however forced the laughter may be.
The viewer may scuffle to follow the storyline, but director Keira Fromm has complete control of green’s frequently inscrutable script. All three performers deliver the dialogue and silences with assurance. It would be interesting to read Fromm’s thoughts exploring the challenges of bringing the difficult text to life in collaboration with her talented ensemble.
The playwright’s writing style bears an eerie resemblance to the works of Harold Pinter in their superficially commonplace dialogue, the sudden lingering pauses, and the overall and disturbing sense of menace that hovers over the characters. But there is ferocity in “hang” that is a considerable distance from the cool of a Pinter play, which rarely raises its voice no matter how deep the emotions go.
The design credits go to Linda Buchanan for her faceless meeting room, Christine Pascual for her costume designs that outfit 1 and 2 with a kind of black and white uniform. while 3 wears lower middle class clothes, though no specific information is provided about 3’s background, other than she is married with small children who have been traumatized by the crime committed against them. Christine Binder designed the antiseptic lighting and Christopher Kriz the sound and original music.
The original English production of “hang” ran 70 minutes. If the Remy Bumppo version added on 20 minutes, the addition was unnecessary. The play moves so slowly in the first half that the viewer, impatient with trying to parse what’s happening on the stage, could get restive and irritated and give up on the show. Still, the performance by McClain is so complete and so engrossing that her presence is sufficient to recommend attendance.
The show gets a rating of
“hang” runs through April 29 at the Greenhouse Theater Center at 2257 North Lincoln Avenue. Performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $42.50 to $47.50. Call 773 404 7336 or visit www.RemyBumppo.org.
Contact Dan at: ZeffDaniel@yahoo.com. March 2018
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