"An Opening in Time" draws crowds at Hartford Stage

     If you’ve been a student here at Trinity for a length of time, you’re probably familiar with a Connecticut winter. It’s not a happy time for most: the dead cold saps you of any energy you might be able to muster, and the world becomes a bleak expanse of grey. It’s times like these, when the mind is left to idle, that people start to think about themselves, their relationships, and the missed opportunities that may have dogged them through life. 
        Christopher Shinn’s play “An Opening in Time” takes place over the course of many months, but  there’s  feeling of wintry thoughtfulness through the entire play. Shinn even began his script with a quote from Shakespeare’s “A Winter’s Tale.”

     Deborah Hedwall plays “Anne,” an older woman who returns to her connecticut town in the first scene in “Opening”. Anne is a retired teacher, and it shows: she breezes through her delicately represented suburban house making tea, and pies, and wants desperately to become friends with the teenage boy next door, “George,” who is played by Brandon Smalls. It’s a simple sort of life, but Anne has a few secrets she’s been keeping. All of them are brought to light when she encounters a very old and once very close friend of hers in the local diner, a man named “Ron,” played by Patrick Clear, who is recently divorced, and looking to build new bridges with his former fling.

What follows is a long thread of time that is not driven by any discernable pattern- rather than feeling as though we are along for the ride, the audience feels as though they are watching a real person’s life through a window. The end result is that the events of the play are just sporadic and just  uncategorizable enough to feel perfectly real.

Writer Christopher Shinn wrote the play in an effort to reach a newer, darker part of himself that he felt he had been avoiding for too long. He grew up in the real version of the  town he describes in suburban Connecticut, and in a sense one can feel him weighing his childhood against his adult life. The funny thing is that Shinn, a quick Google search will reveal, has had a fascinating and pretty challenging life. It seems a strange choice to write this story of elderly people and a changing world to address this, but if one looks again, we can see his point of view in the details. A glimpse into the lives of two people who are each struggling with regret and the notion of what might have been a wasted life is powerful- and somehow universal.

“An Opening in Time” is a deceptively complicated journey into the lives of a handful of people, Ron and Anne at the center of the web. It isn’t heartbreaking, nor is it particularly uplifting, but we feel a catharsis emanating from the feeling of living through another, and feeling their regret and confusion at a world that has stopped waiting for them to make their decisions. This is, after all, a major current of the story- the idea of returning to the place where one’s life and heart call home after thirty years and finding that everything has moved on without you. If one hasn’t been doing what makes you happy, maybe you haven’t been living at all.

The play has an impeccable sense of self when it comes to pacing, casting, and above all, atmosphere. Shinn has created a self contained pearl of a play, the kind that is good for its own sake. But I wonder vaguely about the audience that it is seeking. On one hand, “Opening” seems eager to reach out to the geriatric crowd: nearly all of the humor that we find is aimed right at those annoying “young people” and their smartphones, and tablets. “I don’t get those things,” they say. “I never had those growing up” etc. etc. Cracks about smartphones and those newfangled Dunkin Donuts that appeared in the town center seem at least to have a place in the hearts of the older audience members, (and believe me, there will be a good number of older audience members), but then, from under the surface there comes some pretty cutting edge social issues.

“An Opening in Time” deals with the topic of the transgender community throughout, and while it never takes a real deep dive into this corner of the play, the mere mention of a trans person is probably enough to mince the opinion of some of the older theatergoers.

I had to chuckle hopelessly to myself during intermission when the echoing conversation of the elderly couple behind me turned into an inept and unfeeling ode to Caitlyn Jenner, “the Gays” and finally a long list of reasons “why we don’t go to Provincetown anymore.”

This is of course not a comment on the play itself, but it is unfortunate that some of the people of a less accepting generation are also the people who will be most attracted to the play from afar. It is probably wishful thinking to wonder if “An Opening in Time” would find a more welcoming audience from college students (cough, cough) but should anyone here at Trinity wish to spend a night at the theater at a compelling and thought provoking play, then by all means, do. It might just make your week.

“An Opening in Time” runs at Hartford Stage until October 11.



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