Shinn Premiere Opens Hartford Stage Season

By Tom Holehan

Deep inside Christopher Shinn’s over-stuffed, heavily-plotted new play, “An Opening in Time”, is a tender, two-character, 70-minute romance just itching to be set free. This world premiere production by the Connecticut playwright has opened Hartford Stage’s new season on a rather shaky note.

“An Opening in Time” concerns Anne (Deborah Hedwall), a recently widowed schoolteacher, who returns to her Connecticut hometown and meets George (Brandon Smalls), the troubled foster teen who has moved in next door. Also on the scene is divorced Ron (Patrick Clear), who worked with Anne for years and has apparently been carrying a torch for her just as long. Ron has a cynical diner buddy (Bill Christ) and a snarky waitress (Kati Brazda) to occupy his time while Anne is attempting to reconnect with her estranged son (Karl Miller) who has just been arrested for inappropriate behavior with a minor. Under director Oliver Butler’s casual and slowly paced direction, it takes Shinn a good act and a half to sort through all this and finally decide that his main interest is Anne and Ron’s relationship.

To be sure, it’s rare to find a contemporary play that deals with later-in-life love. One of the best things Shinn explores in “An Opening in Time” is how memory can be unreliable by people who may be too close to the situation to have real perspective. Shinn clearly reveals the painful truth about how misunderstanding and pride can lead to estrangement. The play calls for two strong actors at its center and, while Hedwall and Clear are obviously capable actors, their connection in this play as possible lovers isn’t readily apparent. The wounded romance between them seems artificial and I didn’t believe their tangled history. As a result, it was difficult to buy into their predicament so I wasn’t invested in the outcome.

In other roles, Molly Camp brings some much-needed energy to the part of Anne’s mysterious next-door neighbor (although the character remains little more than a red herring) while a miscast Smalls doesn’t begin to suggest the dual nature of George’s character. Mr. Christ makes a lot of a one-note role as Ron’s cryptic friend while Miss Brazda lives up to stereotype as the put-upon waitress. In his one scene, Karl Miller brings surprising sympathy to his role as Anne’s conflicted son but, as written, the part still seems like unnecessary filler that could easily be excised.

Inspired by Shinn’s hometown of Wethersfield, Connecticut, scenic designer Antje Ellermann’s impressive rendering of New England town life is quite a sight complete with the fronts of three roomy houses backed by naked trees and a wintry sky. In the playing, however, the intimate drama seems to be swallowed up whole by this expansive design which also includes several other sets that pop up or slide onto the busy stage at regular intervals. Less would be more here. It's a note that also applies to Mr. Shinn’s writing.

“An Opening in Time” continues at Hartford Stage through October 11. For further information and ticket reservations call the theatre box office at 860.527.5151 or visit: www.hartfordstage.org.

Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.
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