If I Hold My Tongue is a short play written by Patricia Henley, a former Perdue University professor, who now lives in Frostburg, MD.
The play was selected as one of 51 by and about women for the Women’s Voices Theater Festival, held in theaters throughout the Washington, D.C. area.
There was some concern by the producer and members of Compass Rose Theater, and some people in the audience, that the show was a bit risky for Annapolis, where Compass Rose is located.
Maybe it is for those of another, more genteel time, but the f-bombs, foul language and plot lines are the kinds of things you hear in any high school hallway during class changes.
The same themes and issues that resonate in D.C., Baltimore, NYC, Chicago, or L.A. resonate in Naptown, too.
The show, powerfully directed by Lucinda Merry-Browne, brings together a diverse group of women in a Baltimore halfway house who form friendships and lifelines as they struggle to remain afloat in the rapids of life.
They are fragile, damaged, hurt. Most of the women are or have been prostitutes, drug users or both. Some use heroin – a rising problem in central Maryland – some love the thrill of the drug speed. As young kids, almost all were thrown out of their parents’ homes or abandoned to the streets.
Though short, the show was dark and edgy. Julie Andrews doesn’t sing “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” at the fadeout.
The women are miserable, haunted, scared and looking for a new life. Some are still teenagers.
Because her drug use began at an early age, Moodge (a vibrant Theresa Cunningham) can’t have kids. Her family has turned their back on her. Moodge recalls when she traveled by bus to Farmville, VA, to attend her mother’s funeral service, they ignored her. No one gave her a ride to the cemetery.
CC (Ali Evarts) has a son and two young daughters. They were taken from her and she’s not sure where they are. She is working slowly, tentatively on restarting her life. Getting an I.D. card is a big step.
Lateesh (Ayune’ Boone) is pregnant – and a bit unhinged.
Linda (Mara Claire Harford) is dealing with the details of getting and keeping a real job. She has to get her GED, learn how to set up a bank account and the minutia of paperwork that she did not experience in her previous life. It’s not easy.
The cast is rounded out by Karen (Elizabeth Darby), Sharon (Rebecca Dreyfuss) and Russell (Clayton Pelham). The only male in the show, Russell has done time behind bars, yet he’s reconnected with his daughter and every Sunday is her day – they do whateve r she wants to do whether it’s seeing a movie or playing board games. A genuinely nice guy, Russell reaches out to the women to befriend them platonically. Something they have not experienced before.
Sharon is an older woman. She is looking for her blue-haired daughter, who had become a prostitute. CC knows the daughter and her situation. She is haunted by the knowledge she conceals. It involves taking a boat ride out to a Russian freighter anchored in the Bay.
The minimal set is rough and gritty, like the show. A few chairs, a book laden bookshelf that doubles as a TV set. A spare wooden staircase, painted black, leads to a second-floor catwalk where some scenes take place. The catwalk forms a roof over some of the action below.
There are no curtains, screens or panels to soften the cinderblock walls of the space. It works perfectly.
Characters walk in and out of the theater’s performance space as if they were walking in from the busy street outside.
Profanity, noirish theme, edgy behavior and a good production make this a dark gem of a show.
Running Time: 70 minutes, with no intermission.