By Myra Chanin
The Seeing Place is a theater company worth embracing by performers as well as the folks that sit and watch. It’s a creative, supportive, artistic home for actors who want to grow and improve. Managed by Founding Directors Brandon Walker and Erin Cronican, both first class performers and directors, The Seeing Place always presents plays that not only absorb your interest during a performance, but also compel you to think about what you’ve seen for a significant period afterwards. They take pride in making live theater affordable to almost everyone at $16.50 per ticket. Their productions are always about compelling rather than frivolous subjects and they have the guts to give their audiences a chance to escape during the intermission. PS. I’ve never seen a Seeing Place performance where anyone did.
Getting Out by Marsha Norman is the first play of their current seventh season. It’s a difficult, disturbing and unfortunately factual account of the diverse forces that any young, supposedly rehabilitated, formerly incarcerated young woman must navigate in order not to fallback to, once again, becoming the person that got her incarcerated. The play has two sets. The main-stage shows the apartment in which she’ll be living post release. The side set is her cell and the aisles and stairs around the stadium seating double as the halls of the reformatory to which she was remanded. Arlie/Arlene is played by two actors. Candice Oden is the past Arlie, and Erin Cronican plays the present Arlene.
Arlene leaves prison to live in a rundown apartment in Louisville with the intention of starting her life over. She’d been rebellious and disruptive as a young girl, but has found strength in her friendship with the prison chaplain. She wants to put the life she knew as Arlie behind her and live now as a more respectable Arlene, but the people who made her self-destructive in the past immediately attempt to sabotage her present ambitions.
Who? Start with all-my-enemies-should-only-have-a-mother-like-hers! And her ditto pimp, who may be the father of Joey, the son who’s been in foster care during her 8-year prison term.
Arlene’s real major problem is earning a living when, like so many women in prisons who lack education, she has no marketable skills. Cleaning or washing dishes are available, but they didn’t pay enough to fund her fantasy—getting her son Joey, who she barely knows, out of foster care and back living with her. Only going back to prostitution will allow her to do that, or maybe not.
Is there any hope for her? My husband thought the lecherous guard who drove her to her new apartment from the prison might be a solution, because he was not enraged by her rejection of his advances and actually seemed to care about her.
It doesn’t work for her. Arlene, who is very guarded and distrustful, finally makes a friend — Ruby, another ex-con who lives in her building but is realistic. She works as a dishwasher, and offers to help Arlene get a similar low-end job.
Ultimately the play, like life, offers no simple answers—but it conveys, with heartrending honesty and compassion, the struggle of someone fighting for her life against incredible odds.
As usual, the direction by Erin Cronican and all of the performances was outstanding, even when they were minor roles or when an actor played more than one part. Carla Brandberg, as Arlene’s Mother, made me consider murder. Both Erin Cronican who plays Arlene and Candice Oden who plays Arlie touched my heart and made me hope that prisons nowadays go beyond acquainting lost souls with Jesus and teach prisoners the skills that will allow them to earn a decent living when they are released.
TSP Main Stage
July 16 – August 7, 2016
Lynn Redgrave Theater, 45 Bleecker St. (at Lafayette) NYC
Photos: Russ Rowland