Count Time Count Time
Back Door Theater, 230-2090
Through Oct 13

I liked exactly one half of this play.

Never have I been so equally and tangibly divided in my criticism, but there it is: six female characters revolving around the theme of prison, and I liked three of them.

Writer/director Lorraine Bahr has mounted an ambitious project at the Back Door that has been a year in the making. She interviewed a series of recently released female prison inmates, then cut and pasted their testimonies into a dramatic script. The result is a mishmash of dialogue, movement, statistics, and poetry, which is alternately exhilarating and awkward.

The half of the play I liked are inmates Sasha (Andrea White), Danna (Sarah Hayes-Marshall), and Courtney (Jordy Oakland). Each has a story to tell of how they got where they are, and each has a journey to make before she can escape the walls that confine her. Often times, the sense of the walls linger even after the inmates have been paroled. Another character named Harley (Linda Worthington), who appears to have been out for quite some time, tells us at one point, "You can't take prison out of the woman."

Of the three, Sasha is the most memorable, her story mesmerizing. White is a revelation, and the five minutes she takes to tell how she hunted down her boyfriend's other lover and stabbed her are the best of the evening. Bahr interrupts such moments of dazzling truth with moments of vague, often boring, diatribe. Worthington's Harley has nothing to do but sit in a chair and preach nostalgic warnings about how miserable life is on the outside. Another inmate, Mara (Stephanie Wichmann), wanders around spouting statistics about how unfortunate prison life really is. Some of the statistics are interesting, but to just rattle them off disrupts the flow of wonderful human interaction created by the others.

The biggest distraction comes courtesy of Debra Terry, a poet playing herself, who sits on a stool in the back corner and reads her poetry. It's good poetry, if you like that sort of thing, but it's just not theatrical and slows the momentum that the three prisoners work so hard to create.

Here at the Mercury, we put out a star to indicate a recommendation. I would give this production half a star, but I fear such a complicated graphic would only confuse you. You'll have to draw it in yourself. Thanks.