Hard Cell: This Wide Night's Marie and Lorraine have done their time — but they're nowhere near in the clear

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Rachel Hanks and Jane Abling in West End Players Guild's This Wide Night.
Rachel Hanks and Jane Abling in West End Players Guild's This Wide Night. John Lamb

Hard Cell: This Wide Night's Marie and Lorraine have done their time — but they're nowhere near in the clear

This Wide Night
Through November 18 at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 North Union Boulevard.
Tickets are $20.
Call 314-367-0025 or visit www.westendplayers.org.

This Wide Night is a bleak smash-up of a play. Chloë Moss based her two-character drama, currently being staged by the West End Players Guild, on interviews she conducted with British women recently released from prison. Instead of joy and relief at being free again, Moss discovered that the women found there's very little freedom on the other side of the walls when you have no money, few prospects of finding a job and you can't shake the belief that prison is your real home. Prison is not so easily shrugged off mentally, as former cellmates Marie and Lorraine keep learning on a minute-by-minute basis.

Marie (Rachel Hanks) was released first and has found a small, grubby apartment in London, a room rendered with remarkable attention to grime and shabbiness by set designer Tim Grumich. We encounter her on the day Lorraine (Jane Abling) shows up to stay with her as part of a plan agreed upon while they were incarcerated. Their reunion is far from happy. Marie is in a drunken fog and now seems cold on resuming their friendship, while Lorraine is cautiously cheerful; Abling plays her as if she's half-afraid she'll be taken back to her cell at any moment and half-afraid she won't be.

This meeting sets off an eleven-scene race through Lorraine's first week of freedom — quite a feat for a one-act play. Director Sean Belt and cast handily manage the pace, imbuing the action with an implacable sense of doom. From the time Marie opens the door, it feels as if something horrible will happen between these two women. It's there in Marie's slurred speech and simmering aggression (which is slightly hampered by Hanks' attempted accent, which sounds alternately vaguely Scottish and vaguely mangled), and in Lorraine's quickly bruised feelings. Theirs is a relationship that may not make it through the night, let alone survive life on the outside.

But motherhood is the undercurrent and propulsion in This Wide Night. Free after more than a dozen years imprisoned, Lorraine hopes to reconnect with her now-adult son, Ben. Abling finds the right balance of guarded optimism and brutal pragmatism as she speaks about her son, knowing he may not want to reconnect with her but hoping he will — hoping but not quite believing.

Marie is clearly annoyed by Lorraine's constant chatter, which Hanks conveys in dangerously sideways glances and half-grunted sighs — and yet she also finds genuine delight in Lorraine's hope. That delight turns foul after Lorraine and Ben meet and have a lovely time together; Abling natters on about how wonderful Ben is and Hanks, who has no such joy to look forward to, exudes a palpable fury, then kills another shot of vodka with deadly intent.

This Wide Night doesn't end with a cheerful resolution. But there's something resolute in the two women at journey's end, something golden revealed in both after the crucible of this week that leads you to believe that they will go on. It's a life that may emerge week by bruising week, but it will belong to them. That's enough. 

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