Saturday, September 26, 2015

A Slow "Opening in Time"

An Opening in Time -- Hartford Stage -- Thru Oct. 11

Deborah Hedwall and Patrick Clear. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Sometimes you can gather the best of ingredients and follow a tried and true recipe and still, for some reason, the meal just doesn’t turn out right. Such is the case with Christopher Shinn’s An Opening in Time, which is having its world premiere at Hartford Stage. Directed at something of a snail’s pace by Oliver Butler, this slice of suburban Connecticut life seems to drag on for longer than its actual two hours, with the main plot somewhat under-spiced and the secondary plots served underdone.

The show’s program goes on at great length via an interview with Shinn about the setting being Connecticut, but it really doesn’t matter. It could be set in any wealthy suburban town in America -- you’d just have to change some street names. Into this town comes Anne (Deborah Hedwall), recently widowed and searching for…well, that remains to be seen. You see, she moved away years ago to live on a farm with her husband, leaving behind a very frustrated Ron (Patrick Clear), who believes that they once almost had a thing going on, or so he tells Frank (Bill Christ), his diner-dining buddy, while they are being served by Anetta (Kati Brazda), a Polish waitress who has eyes for Ron. But there’s more to Anne’s move than meets the eye, for she has also relocated to be close to her son Sam (Karl Miller), who has gotten into trouble by romancing a teenage girl.

Ah, but there’s still more, for Anne has purchased a house next door to a family that has fostered two brothers – one who has left, succumbing to a world of crime and drugs, and the other, George (Brandon Smalls) who is in the process of finding himself in terms of sexual identity. Anne soon befriends George and she, being an ex-high school teacher, naturally loans him a copy of Hemingway’s short stories, a surefire ice-breaker for a young twenty-first century adolescent male. George’s foster mother, Kim (Molly Camp) is somewhat edgy (in a fidgety, hyper-suburban housewife manner) with this relationship, especially after someone breaks one of Anne’s windows, which brings a police detective (Mike Keller) on the scene to investigate.

So all of the ingredients are on the table – actually, they are on or at a lot of tables, which keep popping up as if to show off some of the renovations the Stage has undergone. Diner tables and pizza parlor tables and even a table from a Denny’s restaurant rise up onto the stage as if they are majestic thrones – the first appearance of the diner counter, with Frank and Ron contentedly munching away, elicited some laughter from the audience, surely not scenic designer Antje Ellermann’s intention. Such over-production suggests that Ellermann and Butler simply didn’t trust the audience to fill in the scenic blanks.

In any event, the main set, upper stage left, is the interior of Anne’s house – specifically her kitchen. Anne doesn’t spend much time in the kitchen and when she does the semi-enclosed room seems to muffle dialogue. There’s a second house stage right, but it’s never made clear who lives in this house or why it’s even there, but that seems to go hand-in-hand with An Opening in Time’s major problem: why are most of these characters introduced and how do they relate?

If you’re interested in what’s nagging at neighbor Kim, well don’t hold your breath. Do you want to know who is breaking Anne’s windows? Wait for the sequel. Hoping for some resolution of Anne’s relationship with George? You can eavesdrop on a phone conversation and gather what information you may. Wonder where the hell Ron went? Sorry. Perhaps he ran off with Anetta.

There is, however, a resolution of sorts, and it provides the only sparks this play offers. Anne and Ron have to work out what really happened between them 30 years ago, and Hedwall and Clear suddenly to come to life, as does the play, in the middle of the second act as their characters confront each other about their interpretations of the past. The argument and subsequent resolution at, of course, a table, provide the only dramatic satisfaction the play offers, though it is pretty weak satisfaction at that. We’re not talking Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf here – it’s more along the lines of Love Story.

Most of the other scenes in the play seem to unfold in slow motion, with a lot of air inserted into the dialogue. One scene that is especially drawn out is the awkward meeting between Anne and Sam at the aforementioned Denny’s. The main point of the scene is that the wounded mother-son relationship can’t be healed in just one meeting, but it takes a long time to establish this fact, and Miller’s channeling of James Dean doesn’t help matters – the idea here is that intransigence can be conveyed through broken sentences punctuated by a lot of silence. In fact, extended silences appear to be the primary mode of emotional communication between many of the characters.   

If you’re intrigued by pop-up tables and moved by the sounds of silence, then An Opening in Time may be just your dish. For the rest of the theater-going public, there’s not much there to satisfy. You’ll come away hungry for a four-course meal that, from soup to nuts, pleases the palate and is served with a sense of immediacy.

An Opening in Time runs through October 11. For tickets or more information call 860-527-5151 or go to