The Sounds of Silence

07Mar08

The Cutting, at Stoneham Theatre

Each act opens with the sounds of sea gulls, although their full significance will not be realized until much later. Currently at Stoneham Theatre, The Cutting is part mystery, part psychological study and part exploration of the honesty of silence – as it draws you into the mind of a young woman apparently traumatized into mutism.

Judith (played by Eve Kagan) is in jail in connection with the mysterious death of her mother, although it’s unclear to the investigators whether Judith had anything to do with her mother’s demise, because Judith isn’t talking. She has not uttered a word in the five months that she has spent behind bars, despite the authorities’ best efforts to prod her into explaining what happened to her agoraphobic mother, with whom Judith shared a house high on an English seaside cliff.

In desperation, the authorities bring in a renowned child psychiatrist with a specialty in treating children who refuse to speak. The doctor is initially reluctant to take the case because she prefers to work with children, and Judith is an adult. Finally, she agrees to see Judith three times a week over a period of time to see if she can gain any insight into the mind of this young woman who stares endlessly and silently out the narrow prison window.
The Cutting
Alex (Rachel Harker) introduces herself to Judith by her first name, rather than as “doctor,” explaining that she is on a first name basis with the children who form her usual client base. The ploy doesn’t work, and for session after frustrating session, Alex is unsuccessful in prying a word from the mouth of Judith.

On a certain level, The Cutting is a meditation on the value of talking, and the need that some feel to avoid silence at all costs, filling every moment with endless chatter. “I am terrified of silence,” Alex observes at one point, “and my patient is not.”

Finally, with time still remaining in one of their sessions, Alex gives up and informs Judith that she won’t be returning. But the door to the secure jailhouse office is locked and the guard has strayed from her post. So Alex resigns to sit back and relax for the twenty minutes until their session will be over and she can leave for good.

And then, Judith speaks. So now, of course, Alex must return, again and again as Judith’s former silence turns into a torrent of words. She speaks rapturously of a mysterious gardener named Gerald. But, Alex wonders, did Gerald really exist or did Judith’s lonely imagination invent him? And could this Gerald have had a role in Judith’s mother’s death?

All of the interaction between Judith and Alex takes place in the tiny jailhouse office. Set designer Gianni Downs has elevated the little office atop a rocky bluff that suggests the cliffside home where Judith lived with her mother. But in fact, much of the plays action takes place in the audience’s imagination, as Alex coaxes Judith to talk about her life, her home, her garden, her mother and Gerald.

The story itself is compelling and engrossing. Like Alex, you analyze Judith’s every utterance for clues to what really happened. But the best reasons to see The Cutting are the performances of Kagan and Harker.

Kagan has been impressing audiences and critics alike over the last several years. She was nominated for an INRE Award for Best Supporting Actress in Talking to Terrorists at the Sugan Theatre. Stoneham audiences will remember her performance in as Louise in Gypsy.

Rachel Harker last appeared at Stoneham Theatre in The Odd Couple. She has appeared in off-Broadway productions as well as locally at New Rep, Lyric Stage and Boston Playwright’s Theatre.

Director Weylin Symes has wisely trusted these two accomplished professional actors to get inside their characters and explore for themselves what makes these two very different women tick.

The Cutting is one of those plays that provide the audience with plenty to talk about on their way home from the theater, or better yet, to contemplate in a precious moment of silence.

The Cutting runs through March 16 at Stoneham Theatre, 395 Main Street, Stoneham. For show times and tickets go online at http://www.stonehamtheatre.org/ or phone 781-279-2200.

[THE CUTTING, by Maureen O’Brien. Directed by Weylin Symes. Set Design, Gianni Downs. Costume Design, Rachel Padula-Shufelt. Lighting Design, Christopher Ostrom. Production Stage Manager, Sarah Hilary Johnson. Production Manager, Dave Brown. Sound Design, David Wilson.]

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