New: Play Review: 'This Wide Night,' Anton's Well Theater Co. at the Berkeley City Club

Ken Bullock
Wednesday December 06, 2017 - 10:36:00 AM

Midway through the show of 'This Wide Night,' a Bay Area premiere by Anton's Well Theater Co. of British playwright Chloë Moss' work, now running weekends at the Berkeley City Club, it occurred to me that it was fitting this spare two-hander was being staged during the holiday season ... 

Though a description of the play wouldn't reveal any holiday thematic resemblance at all to a kind of subgenre of downbeat, human interest Christmas entertainments, the whole feel of this slowly-spun, moody tale of two very different women who were cellmates in prison, meeting up again at Marie's studio apartment (she jokes that "studio's just a fancy name for a bed-sit") after her older, former 'mate Lorraine's released, reminds me of that old chestnut of TV movies--a little bit like, say, 'A Christmas Memory,' the Geraldine Page vehicle from Truman Capote's story that Frank Perry directed for ABC Stage 67. 

As performed by Mila Ashley (Marie) and Mary Jo Price (Lorraine), directed by Robert Estes, Anton's Well founder, a great deal of territory in mood and temperament is quietly covered in an hour and 45 minutes, in a series of scenes, all in the studio apartment, which both frames and ferments the emotional play within its walls. 

Estes writes in his notes about "the empathy of the other," and the playwright, who had an artistic residency in a prison in Rochester, England, from where the play toured other prisons, writes about how "freedom can actually feel like a very bleak and frightening prospect." 

The unassuming nature of the play and of its two characters can underline the shifts, reversals, even, the characters and their renewed, unfolding relationship undergo--who is the optimist, who the pessimist? Who's carrying who emotionally? Is either concealing anything from the other, out of malice or fear, attempting to manipulate, or simply trying to put up a brave front? 

It's a very humane look at an offbeat relationship that can cast light on more conventional ones. A good, sympathetic yet dispassionate scene to look in on during this holiday season. 

'This Wide Night,' running Friday and Saturday nights at 8, Sunday afternoons at 2 through December 17 at the Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Avenue, between Ellsworth and Dana. $17-20. antonswell.org