Angela Goethals and Hannah Cabell
in The Zero Hour
(© Rob Strong)
Angela Goethals and Hannah Cabell
in The Zero Hour
(© Rob Strong)
Lesbian relationships and the Holocaust are the primary themes in Madeleine George's striking new play, The Zero Hour, which is being presented at Walkerspace by the playwriting collective 13P. And while the production, directed by Adam Greenfield, covers subjects that have been extensively dealt with in numerous plays and other artistic works, it somehow comes across as refreshingly original.

The primary narrative concerns Rebecca (Angela Goethals), who writes for an academic publishing company, and lives in a Queens walkup with her girlfriend O (Hannah Cabell), who is unemployed and has no interest in changing that situation. O's lack of a job is only one of the sources of tension between the two women. Rebecca remains closeted both at work and to her mother, and reveals to her therapist that she's not even sure if she's a lesbian. In explanation, Rebecca makes a distinction between what she does in bed and claiming an identity based upon that behavior.

Rebecca is also at work on a text book for seventh graders about the Holocaust. She wonders how Nazis have become the "absolute standard of evil" even as she becomes more and more wrapped up in her research. Then she starts meeting Nazis on the 7 Train, or perhaps she only imagines she does. They seem nice enough, even if they don't look as if they've aged any since World War II. Meanwhile, at home, O is visited by the ghost of her mother.

George has a bold and offbeat approach to her playwriting that makes such scenarios not only plausible, but emotionally resonant. She's aided in this by excellent performances from the two lead actresses who adeptly handle both the humor and drama of the piece. Goethals perfectly captures the cool neuroticism of Rebecca, who has a tendency to hide behind her intellect and not give free rein to her feelings, particularly in front of O.

For her part, Cabell has a vibrant energy and likable demeanor, while also demonstrating a damaged psyche. The two have a steamy chemistry together which makes the characters' relationship believable, and all the more tragic as they seem unable to communicate their needs to one another.

The two performers also play nearly all of the other characters within the play. They switch personas with small additions or subtractions to their costumes (designed by Sydney Maresca), which they often change in full view of the audience. While Cabell and Goethals do vary their vocal intonations and accents, they don't make an attempt to disappear into their secondary roles.

Occasionally, the emotions they have as one character even bleeds into their next one. For example, a charged scene between Rebecca and her therapist (played by Cabell) transitions immediately into an argument between O and Rebecca that emotionally builds on where the last scene left off.

Rounding out the cast is Gardiner Comfort as Doug, who Rebecca meets in a bar after a really bad day. He doesn't get many lines, but has a strong presence. This scene also allows Goethals to show off a different side to Rebecca, as she responds to Doug's attempts to pick her up with an acid wit and nearly predatory demeanor.