Alison Pill and Edie Falco in This Wide Night
(© Carol Rosegg)
Alison Pill and Edie Falco in This Wide Night
(© Carol Rosegg)
The plight of two female ex-cons struggling to adapt to life on the outside is the subject of Chloe Moss' This Wide Night, now getting an earnest U.S. production from Naked Angels at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater -- one that benefits greatly from thoroughly believable performances by Edie Falco and Alison Pill.

For better and worse, Moss -- who wrote the play on a commission after spending time talking to female prisoners -- forgoes giving audiences any sort of educational lesson or indulging in social criticism, and instead focuses on the interpersonal relationship between ex-cellmates Lorraine (Falco), and Marie (Pill). And while there's a moment or two when one expects Moss might go off in some contrived or surprising direction -- like having the two plot a bank robbery or engage in torrid lesbian sex -- in the end, the play follows a rather predictable path.

From the moment that frumpily-dresesed 50-year-old Lorraine arrives unexpectedly at much younger Marie's slovenly flat (perfectly designed by Rachel Hauck), there's the slight tension associated with a longed-for-but-feared family reunion. It becomes quickly clear that Lorraine has just been released, and the life that Marie -- who has been out of prison for a while -- has put together for herself will somehow be upended by this visit. It will also come as little surprise to most audience members that the life Marie says she has is not the same as the one she does, nor that the plainspoken Lorraine is always telling the truth.

Anne Kauffman's surehanded direction does what it can much of the time to downplay the essentially static nature of the script -- a task aided by Matt Frey's detailed lighting and Robert Kaplowitz's excellent sound design. But a one-room play is a one-room play, and there are many moments where one feels as trapped as its inhabitants.

Whether in plays like Side Man and Frankie & Johnny in the Clair de Lune or in her current TV show Nurse Jackie, Falco has displayed a remarkable lack of vanity, but rarely has she looked as unattractive as she does in Emily Rebholtz's costumes. But even after we hear, rather too briefly, about what landed Lorraine in prison, Falco's inner beauty shines through. Her Lorraine is clearly a good person who probably made a bad decision, and her attempts to reconnect (offstage) with her long-estranged adult son and to look after Marie touch the heart.

Pill has made a career of playing young women who are equal parts bravado and vulnerability -- from reasons to be pretty and Blackbird to The Miracle Worker -- but this may be her most effective performance yet. One can never be sure which side of Marie's dual personality will emerge from any situation, but the result always feels completely organic.