By Myra Chanin . . .
BocaStage has done it again! Its current production, Time Alone, by Academy Award nominee Alessandro Camon, has earned plaudits well worth repeating. First class cast. Seamless direction. Thought provoking. Psychologically gripping. Soul-wrenching. Uniquely transforming.
One might wonder why I arrived so late at the fair. I was vacationing in the far Pacific when the play opened, but I am pleased to report that the sold-out Sunday matinee audience I joined as soon as I returned to the near Atlantic, awarded the amazing cast, Rio Chavarro and Karen Stephens, a long and well-deserved standing ovation.
Camon calls the play a work of fiction, but admits his writing was influenced by what he was told by inmates, convicts, teachers, advocates and criminal justice reformers at California juvenile facilities and prisons. Their anguished words are so packed with truth, that disregarding them is impossible.
The play contrasts the journeys of two people, Gabriel Wayland and Anna Jackson, whose lives have been inhibited by circumstances beyond their control. Gabriel has become a murderer. Anna has become a victim. But examining their lives more closely reveals that Gabriel was victimized throughout his entire existence and Anna nurtures a murderous lust to witness the last breath leave the body of her beloved son’s killer . . . who wasn’t Gabriel.
Ardean Landhuis’s brilliant side-by-side set displays both of their isolated environs, but your attention is drawn to the one in which the actor is speaking. We meet Gabriel first. He’s a nervous, handsome, Hispanic man in his mid-30s, striding around a dim, gloomy, windowless, greenish-gray prison cell, like the ones in which he’s been incarcerated since he was 18. His previous existence was no garden of roses. His father walked out on the family when Gabriel was very young. His mother left after her money, men and drugs problems plagued them all. Gabriel remembers dead bodies lying in the streets, but also evokes good things from his past—playing soccer and riding his bike in the park, smelling meat sizzling in the taco truck and sharing stolen chocolate and good Alaskan weed with his half-brother Ivan. Homeless, he feels that all he has are his homies, so when he’s told to shoot Ramon for shooting Linda, he does it. Ramon dies but Linda survives.
Gabriel is tried as an adult. His homies do not help him. Gabriel’s driver rats him out to get a lighter sentence. Witnesses develop amnesia. Linda no longer remembers who shot her. Legal rules stand between Gabriel’s defense and actual justice. He ends up with a sentence of 50 years to life which includes extensive periods of solitary confinement. He discovers Shakespeare, Jack London, Mark Twain. Reading about the worlds they present softens his soul.
Anna tells her tale from a bright, neat, conventional, spotlessly clean, suburban kitchen. She’s easier for us to commiserate with. Like us, she’s a middle-class person, the loving and beloved widow of a cop felled by a heart attack, who transfers all the love in her heart to their son Laurence, a sweet man like his father, who follows in his father’s footsteps. He becomes a good cop who does the right thing.
Eventually, Laurence is shot at by a perp who’s too drunk to hit him, but nine months later he’s not so lucky. A meth-ed up killer allows death, like a loathsome landlord who lights up a cigar and says he owns the place, to take possession of Anna’s life. She becomes unforgiving, tired of excuses about impoverished childhoods, absent fathers, early exposure to violence and drugs. She’s also had it with the hypocrisy of lawyers who celebrate getting murderers off and people who claim they want social justice but live in gated communities or want to save the dolphins but order sushi.
Ironically, the same week I watched Time Alone, my TV reeked with empathy for the unbearable tsouris endured for the last 38 years by His Royal Highness, The Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry aka the Spare and the King of Whiners. He was forced to sleep in a room smaller and on a bed harder than his older brother in family castles! Vay is meer. What could Gabriel and Harry have in common? One thing. Neither one of them carried money. Gabriel because he usually had none. Harry because there was always a suck-up around delighted to pick up Harry’s check.
Gabriel and Anna never met each other but are connected. I urge you to see the Time Alone to find out what in the world could possibly resolve their conflicts. Maybe the desire to end the destruction of hate on the hater or a four-letter word that begins with the letter L and ends with an E.
Genie Croft’s direction was as usual superb. Rio Chavarro and Karen Stephens were just exceptional. Your feelings for them shifted along with their feelings for the characters they portrayed. I loved the words in the play, but felt the action clumsily constructed. I have more compassion than Anna—as I should because my son wasn’t killed—but I too got bored hearing the excuses. I know they’re valid, but they became redundant. I would have preferred to hear more about how and what made Gabriel change. I also think the end of the play, which dealt with resolution and forgiveness, zipped by too quickly. I needed to witness the changes in Anna in greater detail.
Time Alone. Through January 22 at Boca Stage at the Sol Theatre (3333 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton, Florida). www.bocastage.net
Photos: Amy Pasquantonio