Five Kinds of Silence Is Beautiful Prose and Stiff Drama

As prose, Shelagh Stephenson's Five Kinds of Silence is surpassingly lovely, gritty, and hauntingly empathetic to all the fighters on its bleak domestic battlefield. Bad dad Billy (Stephen Hansen) may be a drunken dictator who routinely beats and violates all the women in his household, including his daughters, but he gets a generous amount of stage time to explain how he became such a little Hitler. And when his meek, fidgety wife (Beatriz Córdoba) takes the spotlight to trace her own trail of tears, she offers a glimpse of house-bound solitude and despair so vast it's nearly Beckettian.

As drama, however, the play is a stiff: Billy is shot dead by his fed-up daughters in Scene Two, and the remaining 90 minutes mix procedural inquest with purgatorial confession. It doesn't help that director Tlaloc Rivas's sleekly designed staging is more attuned to the rhythms of Stephenson's language than to the play's emotional pulse. The daughters fare the worst in this low-stakes approach: Wearing identical print dresses, Lanna Joffrey and Monica Pérez-Brandes start out as numb, stunted child-women—and stay that way, never convincingly breaking through to show us the soul-deep damage. That's another kind of silence, surely—just not the compelling kind.

 
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