Where: Remy Bumppo Theatre Company at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave.
When: through April 29
By ANNE SPISELMAN
British playwright Debbie Tucker Green’s 2015 “hang,” which is enjoying a well-acted U.S. premiere directed by Keira Fromm at Remy Bumppo Theatre Company, is one of those plays that creates dramatic tension by stringing the audience along and making us try to figure out what is going on. The characters are nameless, and for at least half of the 80-or-so intermission-less minutes, we have little or no idea why 3 (Patrese D. McClain), a black woman who is clearly on edge, is in an institutional-looking room with 1 (Eleni Pappageorge) and 2 (Annabel Armour), overly solicitous officials who are interviewing her to determine her decision on a crucial matter.
Set “nearly now,” the play postulates a near-future or alternative world, and eventually we do learn what 3 has to decide, or rather has decided. She suffered some sort of horrible attack in her home several years earlier—we surmise, because the details are never divulged—and has come to tell the officials how the culprit should be punished, or more specifically, put to death. We don’t know anything about him either, except that 3 says he had blue eyes. Though the script specifies that she is black and presumably he was write, oddly the subject of race never is raised.
For 3, the ordeal was so traumatic that it destroyed her life and her family. Upset by the officials’ pro forma sympathy and still shaking visibly, she describes the effects in detail, including her children’s screaming and inability to settle and the cessation of sex in her marriage. McClain does a compelling job of making her pain and anger palpable.
The officials epitomize bureaucracy taken to the satirical extreme. Initially, they spend a great deal of time attempting the impossible task of making 3 feel “comfortable” by offering her beverages—coffee, tea, hot or cold water—and discussing trivia like plastic vs real glasses. Frequently 2, played with amusing fussiness by Armour, goes over territory Pappageorge’s more businesslike 1 already has covered, and occasionally they get into tiffs and leave the room to straighten them out.
Those arguments involve protocols, with which the officials are obsessed. They have rules for everything, and their training involved role playing, which 3 ridicules more than once. Their obliqueness also obfuscates the proceedings. Typical is the “development” they are required to mention to 3 but prevented from explaining, until she pries a bit of information from them. Turns out the convicted man sent a letter—they lie to her about when—but 1 and 2 can’t reveal its contents or try to influence 3’s decision in any way. They won’t read it to her, either, though 2 lays it on the table for 3 to read herself, something she is too traumatized to do.
The other thing 3 wants to know, and that 1 and 2 don’t want to tell her, is how long each potential method of execution takes. When they are pressured sufficiently, however, 2 launches into minutely detailed descriptions of everything from lethal injections to firing squads. Armour, disturbingly, seems pleased with herself or at least with her proficiency.
It’s easy to guess which method 3 picks and why.
Tucker Green is known for her poetic style, and “hang” is permeated by pregnant pauses, half-finished sentences that float in the air, and other tropes reminiscent of Harold Pinter, David Mamet, and their ilk. They’re so self-conscious and draw out the drama so much that they come across as manipulative and are annoying. At times, I felt that I was watching a 30-minute sketch stretched out to almost twice that length.
Linda Buchanan’s simple set—stacking chairs, water cooler, modern vertical florescent lighting—does its job well enough, and so do Christine A. Binder’s lighting and Christopher Kriz’s sometimes ominous sound design. Christine Pascual’s costumes help define the characters, right down to the uniforms for 1 (pants and jacket) and 2 (skirt and jacket), not to mention the large purse 3 hugs to her body in moments of intense stress.
I suspect reactions to “hang” will vary greatly, but it is worth seeing for the performances, especially McClain’s.