Off Broadway (and sometimes Broadway) Reviews and Information.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

A fascinating look at a year Between the Bars

I thought I knew what to expect with the play Between the Bars. I expected a raw look at the indignities of prison. But here, there are no prison riots, no torture, and no histrionics. Instead, we get a thoughtful look at a handful of incarcerated men over the course of a year, through the prism of visits from family and friends.

Seven extremely talented actors play twelve roles including prisoners, guards, girlfriends, and mothers. These actors meld into the characters and bring each one unique energy and outlooks.

Nowani Rattray, Chad Carstarphen, Juan Arturo, Katie Mack , Akeil Davis

Between the Bars starts with three men getting visits from three women. Two of these are mothers and one is brought in as a possible friend.

The set is comprised of a large visitation room, set behind actual bars. At one end of the stage is where visitors are searched before they enter. At the other end, guards at a desk keep a watchful and disdainful eye. In the rear vending machines full of snacks and one Coke machine silently stand out as reminders of what the men have lost. But the scene is dominated by the vast empty space of the visitation room. It is a sterile and hard place with only the chairs, arraigned in pairs, breaking the bleakness. 

In Between the Bars, temperaments and relationships are defined by archetypes. One man is squeamish and afraid, his mother offering tough love. One man is calm and composed, his mother offering compassion and heartbreak. One man is intelligent and aloof; condescending to the point of distancing himself from the possibility of a friend. 

These same actors then play a second set of couples. One is a guard with a childhood friendship with a prisoner. One is an abusive boyfriend and the girl that cannot quit him. One is a man trying to plan is life after prison with a caring girlfriend. These are the stories the audience follows through the well-paced 90 minutes of the show. It seems unfair to single out performances. in such a great cast, but Juan Arturo and Katie Mack are electric as a two couples in very different relationships.

A haunting spoken word voiceover kicks in three times. The voice of pain, desperation, and hopelessness knifes the audience emotionally. Kudos to Adrian Bridges here for great sound design and Mary Ellen Stubbins for lighting design.

Juan Arturo and Katie Mack. Photos by Mati Gelman.jpg

The characters grow, or don’t, over the course of a year of visits and changes. The visiting women often drive these changes unconsciously. The toll of the unequal relationships redefines and molds the characters. Their various endings are less melodramatic and more honest than you expect from this type of play.

Between the Bars is excellently directed by Benjamin Viertel. Written by Lynn Clay Byrne, it strikes a different perspective with very few false notes. The Here Arts Center is an intimate space, and this play take full advantage of it.

Note: Proof of vaccination is required and masks must be worn in the theater.

Playwright: Lynn Clay Byrne | Director: Benjamin Viertel
Cast: Juan Arturo, Chad Carstarphen, Akeil Davis, Katie Mack, Christopher Mowood, Naowanit Rattray, Carol Todd


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