Chicago Theater Review: HANG (Remy Bumppo)

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by Lawrence Bommer on March 27, 2018

in Theater-Chicago


Critics always worry about giving away too much — in spoilers and such. And, yes, at first that fear seemed real with hang by U.K. playwright debbie tucker green. By the end, however, it was clear that this one-act, coiled and coy, wasn’t giving anything away. It leaves it to the audience’s fear factors to trigger all sorts of post-show reactions.

In green’s case that’s as much a minus as a plus. There’s a lot more here than meets eyes or ears. And some may consider the missing material a dramatic cop-out and dereliction of a playwright’s duty. A terse and taut U.S. premiere from Chicago’s Remy Bumppo theater, these 85 minutes deliver far more questions than answers.

Cryptic and disturbing, this 2015 slice of bureaucracy, which debuted at London’s Royal Court Theatre, connects and confronts two white government workers and an African-American witness/victim — simply named 1 (Eleni Pappageorge), 2 (Annabel Armour) and 3 (Patrese D. McClain), respectively. They meet in Linda Buchanan’s coldly antiseptic interrogation room. There 3, bitter and defensive, finds herself in a “tricky position.” She is asked to make a decision about the manner of execution of an unnamed, unseen offender, a creature who has destroyed her family, reputation, peace of mind and belief in justice. Her unseen kids — Tyrell, 9, and Maffia, 7 — have lost their ability to “settle” for anything in life. Her husband is mute and useless. This family will never be the same.

Much of green’s awkwardly driven small talk only exacerbates the play’s refusal to name the crime that this offender has committed. Solicitous to officious, 1 and 2 are compassionate and by-the-rules but unwilling or unable to divulge much case information. For reasons that also escape us, they have withheld for several weeks a crucial letter written by the criminal to 3. Their unwillingness to read the letter to 3 further incenses her (and, not incidentally, the audience as well).

Wondering if 1 and 2 are only “role playing” in a game of crime and punishment, 3 is consumed with the minutiae of resolving the felon’s fate — lethal injection, firing squad, the gas chamber, beheading — and finally decides, as the title predicts, on a hanging (preferably including an unintended decapitation). Undeterred, 1 and 2, consumed by the presumed “comfort” of serving tea and assuring 3’s privacy, as well as the “stats,” ignore 3’s tragedy. They’d rather pursue the prescribed protocols, finally presenting 3 with numerous documents to sign and initial. To their clumsy sympathy, 3 can only howl “You don’t know!” and “You can’t imagine!”

Slow to simmer (it never boils) and never achieving anything like “closure” (which may well be the point of the play), hang refuses to share its secrets. Instead it forces the audience to imagine the terrible deed committed by a “blue-eyed” malefactor who has clearly afflicted and possibly unhinged 3. The gallows humor only muddies the waters: Is this a play about the vengeance behind capital punishment, the alienation and marginalization of victimhood, racially-fueled “failures to communicate,” or the slow wheels of supposed justice? Or all of the above?

What’s certain in this stripped-down show is the solidity and concentration of Keira Fromm’s staging. Pappageorge and Armour’s well-intentioned flunkies, no feminist icons of sisterly solidarity, contrast viscerally with McClain’s anguished 3. Averse to all that’s “hollow,” 3’s all-consuming urge for transparency and her need to expiate so much unshown violence become their own forces of nature.

Given so many promising ingredients, it’s all the more regrettable that hang holds back so much that we want to know. It’s as if green doesn’t expect an audience to completely care until they can imagine what’s missing. That compliment may also be a curse. You could say that the show is its own spoiler.

photos by Michael Courier Photography

Remy Bumppo Theatre Company
Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave.
ends on April 29, 2018
for tickets, call 773.404.7336 or visit Remy Bumppo

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Ned R. Turner April 8, 2018 at 3:31 pm

Dear Mr. Bommer:

I enjoyed your review and agree with you very much.

I would now like to see this play with one black and one white government employee. And # 3 could remain black or could be white. How different would that make this play?

For me, this was a racial play and a most uncomfortable one.

If I were in a Chicago police station and I was a victim, could I demand that the letter written by the prep was shown to me? Could I demand to know how long ago it was written and who read it?

I think that the author Debbie Tucker Green (sic) can write poetically and can compose a good play, but it seems to me that she is TOO ANGRY to become a great writer.

Thank YOU


Larry Bommer April 9, 2018 at 5:45 am

I agree. It’s a weird kind of boutique justice — the business about the letter, and also choosing the manner of execution of the victim.

The crime itself is frustratingly ignored by this sideshow. Why is her agreeing to have him hanged so important here and not divulging the horrors he perpetrated on this entire family?


SL Wisenberg April 27, 2018 at 9:26 pm

It was affecting but seemed to go on too long. I haven’t made up my mind about the way it teased the audience. It was shorter in London (according to reviews). I wonder how it was changed for the US.


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