Review: Hang by Horizon Line Theatre
by Michael Meigs
It's devilishly difficult to craft a review of debbie tucker green's Hang without flinging spoilers. This is because the playwright's structural approach to this story is based on withholding information. We don't know these three persons' names; they're identified only as One, Two and Three. More to the point, we don't know why Nadine Mozon as Three, a married woman who underwent some terrible trauma (what?) inflicted by someone (who?) has come to this meeting with the nervously affable social workers (?) One (Barbara Chisholm) and Two (Robert Faires) to make a decision (what decision?) without the support of her husband, family or a friend (why?).
You won't get a clue from the set, for gifted designer Michelle Ney has stripped it down to a pile of plastic office chairs, a water cooler, a low table and a row of screens at the back to represent the rear wall and doorway of an office. It's as if in a fit of repentence she renounced her considerable talents and reduced this sacred space to an Anywhere. Which is, of course, what she did.
Director Chuck Ney, her husband, told the first-night audience at the Ground Floor Theatre they'd seen this play in London and believed strongly that tucker green [stet: she wants it written that way] should be better known in the United States. I accept that contention and look forward to hearing and seeing more. tucker green (ouch, it hurts a writer/editor to start a sentence with a lower-case letter!) has given us a piece as powerful as Pinter, one that savagely contrasts the ever-so-polite socially concerned helper people, secure in their minion roles, with the real and ongoing suffering of the victims of crime they're assumed to be helping. There's a dash of Orwell here, as well, for unless I'm greatly mistaken, the premise is a fantasy. No victim is offered the opportunity to make such a decision, for the state -- in persons of prosecutors, judges, and the prison apparatus -- acts for them, if not in their behalf.
Chisholm and Faires, chatty, solicitous, and nervous, receive Mozon for her long scheduled appointment. The first 15 or 20 minutes of the piece is a panto of avoidance and painful politeness, a real send-up of English civility. Mozon doesn't buy it; she resents it and glowers, refusing to play the game. Her very presence defies the pretense that they're there to help her somehow.
If that were all, the play would have ended quickly. But there's been a "development" (what?) of which they were recently notified (when?), and this information prompts prevarications and outright lies. Getting to the bottom of that involves angry verbal fencing and some cunning on Mozon's part. But she refuses to play that game, too, for she has already made up her mind (about what?).
The heart and moral of this piece lie in Robert Faires' lengthy, matter-of-fact discussion of the various methods (methodologies, perhaps) by which someone can be put to death. It's funny and yet deeply chilling, perfectly appropriate to the state of Texas, where 565 persons have been executed since the 1976 Supreme Court decision that allowed the resumption of legalized killing. (The most recent was Robert Sparks, two weeks ago.) This play from the United Kingdom doesn't breathe a word about Texas or the U.S.; the playwright gives Faires a chatty, technical, anecdotal narrative that depicts legal execution with about the same emotional involvement as traffic engineering. That earnest presentation vibrates of the death camps of the German Third Reich, without ever mentioning them.
The Neys understood that this is an actor's piece, and they confided it to some of the best. Faires and Chisholm are spouses, stalwarts of theatre art and appreciation here, but also recognized across the United States. Mozon, faculty member at Texas State in San Marcos, has a long list of impressive credits on stage, television and film. They absorb these characters, potential caricatures, and endow them with aching reality.
It's a 90-minute look into multi-level hell, where the clean, optimistic purveyors of social good run into the discomfiting reality of individual human existence. Or a slow-motion high-resolution film of naive good intentions smashing into the messy business of collateral damage and revenge. You just can't look away. Nor should you. And tucker green holds out that last unknown (what?), a trump card played too late and to devastating effect only upon the victim -- without ever revealing the message that overwhelms her as the lights dim.
And then die.
October 03 - October 19, 2019
979 Springdale Rd
Austin, TX, 78702
October 3 - 19, 2019 Ground Floor Theatre, Austin
Thursdays - Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 5 p.m.
Industry night pay-what-you-will Wednesday, October 16 at 8 p.m.
Tickets $25 general admission, $20 seniors & students, plus service fees