“You want to know my decision?” asks the unnamed female protagonist of “hang.” She directs her query to a pair of bumbling government bureaucrats who keep beating around the bush. The bureaucrats — overly-polite, awkward, nervous — have avoided addressing the main purpose of the meeting. But once it’s out, this woman is here to deliver on a decision, and a difficult one. And so the façades of politeness gradually deteriorate.
“hang”, by British playwright debbie tucker green (lower case intentional), is the inaugural production of Horizon Line Theatre playing at Ground Floor Theatre through Oct. 19. The company aims to produce provocative plays that “broach current social, political, and cultural issues that threaten the survival of humanity.” “hang” indeed makes for an entertaining and disturbing evening of theater.
A meticulous three hander running shortly over 80 minutes, the play is set in a sterile government office, in an abstract “nearly now” of a dystopian universe in which a woman who has been the victim of a violent attack must decide what the punishment for her attacker will be.
Meanwhile, the two government bureaucrats assigned to guide her through the process (neither the bureaucrats nor the woman have names—they’re identified in the program as One, Two and Three, respectively) tiptoe around her incompetently, asking over and over again if some tea would make her more comfortable, if the air conditioning is to her liking. As the meeting progresses and stakes increase —“developments” surface, protocol is broken — their inadequacy in understanding her grief continues to make things worse.
“hang” is excitingly sparse. There’s something undeniably engrossing about watching a character come to a single decision in real time, in one place, on stage in front of us. The play’s various tonal shifts are successfully rendered under Chuck Ney’s direction: moments of nervousness and occasional humor stand out against starker, quieter, more somber beats. This yields some uncomfortable and specifically theatrical moments: long painful silences that don’t let the audience off the hook. We are forced to literally sit with this woman’s pain, and, since the specifics of the attack are never specified, are left to imagine its gruesome details too.
The cast of seasoned Austin theater professionals performs the story, and its stakes, with humanity. They deliver on that old acting teacher adage: “play the solution, not the problem.” And rather than show us that This Is A Serious Play, the actors perform with specificity and, refreshingly, hope. Nadine Mozon, as the brave protagonist, and Robert Faires and Barbara Chisholm, as the incapable, overly-cautious administrators, skillfully navigate the arcs of debbie tucker green’s three English-accented characters.
Michelle Ney’s scenic and costume design provide a highlight. Hanging glass panels, dreary office carpeting, some chairs and a water cooler—used at specific moments for comedic effect—and humdrum professional apparel make the people and place of the play feel completely real, even if the play’s premise situates it in a world different from our own. The world on stage is just sufficiently abstracted to allow the audience’s minds to fill in necessary gaps, to imagine what the story proposes: the rest of this world, the attack, and, as the play reaches its climax, what different judgements might await the attacker, described in painstaking detail by Faires’ character. Harsh bright office lighting, by Cheri Prough DeVol, and chilling sound, by Phillip Owen, contribute to this stifling atmosphere.
Despite the occasional lag, this production of “hang” is a stirring and unsettling night of theater, and Horizon Line Theater is an exciting new addition to the Austin theater scene. Beat by beat, this artful production is a reminder that good psychological drama is about watching people make decisions, and having to live with those decisions, for better or worse.
“hang” continues through Oct. 19 at Ground Floor Theatre, horizonlinetheatre.com