Review: Hang asks big probing questions, but provides few answers

Time for another blog-only review, this time of the premiere production from a new Austin-area company, Horizon Line Theatre!

Hang, by debbie tucker green, is an elliptical play that asks its audiences questions as much through what is left unsaid as through what is said. A new mounting of the play, the debut production from Horizon Line Theatre (and playing through October 19th at Ground Floor Theatre), is fortunately anchored in three strong performances that engage and probe the emotions as much as the intellect.

Any discussion of Hang must be somewhat vague, because the play itself is so deliberately vague throughout. It’s three-person cast are not given names (referred to only as One, Two, and Three in the program), and the locale is never made any clearer than some kind of office somewhere in England. A pair of employees in that office—One and Two, played here by Barbara Chisholm and Robert Faires—are meeting with a woman—Three, played by Nadine Mozon—who has come in to make a very difficult decision. Though we finally learn what that decision is, the broader context that surrounds it is never made explicit, but rather only hinted at.

Robert Faires, Nadine Mozon, & Barbara Chisholm (Photo by Cheri Prough DeVol)

Instead of telling a particular, individual story, then, Hang becomes in large part about the bigger forces of bureaucracy and power in our modern world. The power dynamics between the employees and the woman are made exquisitely, painfully clear through what starts as innocuous dialogue and later becomes a true point of anguish for the woman. Though the dialogue leaves issues of race and class as subtext, it is also impossible not to contrast the dowdy casualness of Mozon’s attire with the sharp business dress of Chisholm and Faires, nor to ignore the racial dynamics of two white people trying—and failing—to empathize with a black woman’s sorrow and angst.

As such, Mozon’s charged, weighty performance is at the heart of Hang, since the nuance of her reactions to Chisholm and Faires’ every word is the largest hook into the story’s context. All three actors are at the top of their game, fully recognizing that every moment needs to be as specific as possible in order to fill in the gaps of the story.

Though it raises some very important issues regarding power dynamics, the ability to empathize, and the cost of vengeance, much of Hang feels more like an essay than a narrative, even though the presentation is scrupulously realist (achieved through pitch-perfect scenic and costume design by Michelle Ney and lighting design by Chell Prough DeVol). The play itself is—perhaps deliberately—quite frustrating, with extraordinary amounts of vamping in order to keep the background vague, but it often comes across as just snappy patter for the sake of filling the silence.

Fortunately, director Chuck Ney recognizes the strength of his cast, and allows them to delve into the emotions of the scene even when the context for those emotions isn’t clear. Together, Chisholm, Faires, and especially Mozon are able to mine real pathos from what might otherwise be a solipsistic meditation, compensating for the lack of a narrative arc with a satisfying emotional through-line that buoys the production and allows for some sense of closure in the end.

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