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LA Theater Review


Prison bars are made of the stuff. A person's will, or sense of determination, can be seen as equally unyielding. And a heart and spirit so damaged by wrong choices, regrettable circumstances, and a misguided sense of protection can become just as impenetrable. All of these allusions to iron are there in Scottish playwright Rona Munro's notable script. Yet director Stephen Tobolowsky and his design team have taken a softer, more symbolic approach to the telling of this tale of a young woman named Josie (Allison Braitkrus) who tries to re-establish a relationship with her estranged mother, Fay (Ann Hearn), now in her 15th year of a life sentence for the murder of her husband.

Ellen Monocroussos' basic blue-and-white lighting design produces an appropriately cold feeling. The sense of a prison cell is subtly suggested by set designer Jeff G. Rack's use of long pale curtains of translucent material hung upstage. The guards (Bernadette Bonfiglio and Webster Williams) weave between these screens and wander across the stage on their rounds, looking and acting more like the friendly security at meet-and-greet discount stores than as eagle-eyed guards watching women who have committed horrible crimes and will die behind bars.

Fay makes reference to the prison's efforts to somewhat beautify the surroundings as a smokescreen for visitors. Perhaps that explains the lovely polished wooden chairs in the visiting area, which are better suited to a more elegant environment. Maybe that's why costumer Carol Beule has Fay always dressed in civilian clothes as opposed to prison garb. Or perhaps Scottish prisons are just more lenient. It's hard to tell. Tobolowsky's cautious direction certainly feels more focused on prettied-up externals rather than on the grittier internal realities of how two women, whose lives have been so fundamentally altered by violent death, can possibly reconnect. Consequently, dialogue and relationships tend to float by and rarely become engaging enough to demand audience attention. A general sense of smoothness pervades the production, and it seems rather at odds with Munro's script. Indeed, there is more drama and depth in her words than is evident in this staging.

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