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THEATER REVIEW: “This Wide Night”

She sits grim-faced, hunched in a chair in front of a TV with no sound. The room around her is small, but seems to have the necessities: a bed, a bathroom and somewhere unseen, a kitchen. Her mind seems to be elsewhere.

Startled by a knock on the door, she ponders whether to answer, finally gets up and opens to the familiar voice on the other side calling “Marie?”

The visitor is Lorraine (Yolanda Franklin), in tracksuit and raincoat, carrying a carryall bag. She asks, “Are you all right?”

Marie and Lorraine know each other from a place they’d both like to forget: prison, where they were cellmates. Marie (Rihanna Basore) seems to have been released first; Lorraine seems to be living in some sort of halfway house where she must sign in and out.

These are less women than shells – what’s left after a stretch in the slammer – under internal if no longer external lock and key, and trying to find their way back to something like a normal life.

We don’t know what crime the streetwise and world-weary Marie committed, and it doesn’t matter. The question is whether the prison experience has left her any life. We do know she has no family to lean on. She talks a good game, but her pain and loneliness are palpable.

Lorraine’s situation is different. She’s a psychological powder keg – kind one minute, flying loudly off the handle the next. She gave up her son when she was incarcerated, wants desperately to reconnect, and is a nervous wreck waiting for the answer to her letter asking whether he’d like to see her.

Both women lie, to themselves and each other, and both play psychological push-pull.

Chloë Moss’ tense “This Wide Night” plays through Oct. 11 at ion theatre. It was commissioned by Clean Break, a British women’s theater company set up in 1979 by two prisoners to bring the stories of imprisoned women to a wider audience. “This Wide Night” won the 2009 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for female playwrights writing in English.

Director Claudio Raygoza keeps the tension at fever pitch, and these fine actors do the rest in this unsettling yet riveting portrait of lives gone wrong.

The details

“This Wide Night” plays through Oct. 11 at ion theatre’s BLKBOX, 3704 Sixth Ave. in Hillcrest neighborhood of San Diego, California.

Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; Saturday at 4 pm.

Tickets: (619) 600-5020 or HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.