What’s the difference between justice and vengeance? In debbie tucker green’s searing one-act hang, the two hang in the balance, as a woman who has been severely wronged is asked to determine the fate of the man who wronged her.
The play opens with three characters (identified in the playbill only as numbers) walking down a hallway of a stultifyingly institutional building as shouts of women protesting outside resonate within. One (a White woman) and Two (a White man), both sporting nondescript suits, usher Three (a carefully composed Black woman; all costumes a credit to designer Amie Jay) into a bland, banal conference room, complete with water cooler and buzzing fluorescent lights. They are convening for the first time in more than three years, and it’s immediately apparent that this is not a happy reunion. All parties are ill at ease, with Three the most tense among them.
Attempts by One and Two to put Three at ease have the opposite effect. As they persistently pepper her with questions—Do you want a drink? Do you want to hang your coat? Do you want to call anyone? Do you want someone with you? How have you been?—she remains guarded, uncomfortable, bristling in a defensive posture, wounded, and confrontational.
We’re not entirely sure what crime has been committed, and whether it was committed against Three specifically or against her whole family, but we glean it was horrific, violent, and has caused serious, lasting trauma for her, her husband, and her two young children, and that it has shaken her relationships with family and friends to the core. Their lives will never be the same; this is not something from which she can simply move on.
And thus she finds herself in this room—one of many similar in the building—with a pair of bureaucrats who have been trained to deal with this type of situation, except Three is having none of their practiced sympathy. Sentences go unfinished; thoughts remain half spoken but fully understood. When Three finally does speak, her words angrily flow like a spoken word performance. She knows she is there to make a critical decision and that these bureaucrats are only there to make sure that her decision is made in accordance with their procedures. To them—despite their displays of concern—she’s a number, a case to file away. But Three is not going to let them just check off another box. She will make them acknowledge her trauma and recognize that it is unique—she’s not just a number, and her experience is not something they can address through their rote training and role playing.
I won’t get into the decision that Three must make except to say that it is surreal, macabre and—oddly enough—the only part of the play that provides a bit of much-welcome comedic relief.
Director Reggie Life’s skills are evident in the timing of the dialogue—halting then rapidfire, with copious uncomfortable pauses and phrases that dangle then double back upon themselves; the words can be scathing and also poetic. The physical and verbal interactions between the bureaucrats and Three are intense, filled with tension, as Three refuses to allow them to dismiss her pain with platitudes.
Cloteal L. Horne owns the stage as Three; she is both shattered and fearsome, not letting the bureaucrats get away with anything, from attempts to console her to outright lies. She conveys a powerful woman whose wounds remain near the surface; allowing herself outbursts of anger, she is trying to hold it together, but her shaking hands give herself away. It’s an effective and affecting portrayal. Kristen Wold plays One as someone who is just trying to get through this meeting, but she realizes her canned solicitousness is backfiring even as she can’t stop herself from attempting to play things by the book. As Two, Ken Cheeseman is a little bit goofy, slow to catch on to the dynamics between the two women as the narrative unfolds, and grateful for any excuse to leave the room (and the tension therein).
Convincing set design by Patrick Brennan and evocative sound design by Brendan F. Doyle contribute to the power of this searing production in which tempers flare, words fail, and two women stage a simmering battle for control of the situation. There is no truth and reconciliation in hang; instead, there is crime, punishment, and ever-present trauma.
hang, by debbie tucker green, runs at Shakespeare & Company’s Tina Packer Playhouse in Lenox, Massachusetts, through October 3.
All photos by Daniel Rader