Off-Broadway's Signature Center is currently offering up "And I and Silence," a new work by playwright Naomi Wallace. Time Out New York's David Cote filed the following review for NY1.
Naomi Wallace is one of those playwrights everyone admires but hardly ever sees. Toughly poetic and unapologetically leftist, her historical dramas aren't done frequently here. The Signature is changing all that with three New York premieres now through next season. If the first offering, "And I and Silence," is dry and goes down hard, at least it lets us hear a passionate voice of the American stage.
The play alternates between 1950 and '59, following the friendship of two prison inmates: Dee, who is white, and Jamie, who is black. In 1950, they are played by Emily Skeggs and Trae Harris. In scenes nine years later, when the women are out of prison and trying to find work as maids, it's Samantha Soule and Rachel Nicks.
We get glimpses of Dee and Jamie's growing trust and love of each other, and how the sexism and racism of the time drives them together. It's a grim tale and - spoiler alert - it does not end happy.
In a touch that seems lifted from Jean Genet's "The Maids, Wallace has them role-play master and servant, with an undercurrent of sexual tension. The four fine young actresses turn in warm, authentic work, yet the piece feels unfinished.
On the plus side, we spend 90 minutes getting acquainted with two sympathetic characters, and Wallace's language has colloquial grace. On the negative side, her scenes are fragmentary and lack a larger context to judge the women’s actions or feel sorry for their truncated tragedy.
"And I and Silence" is worthy stuff, but like the women in it, you will be aware of the passage of time.