“6 X 8” is so full of creative good will that you can’t help wishing the result was something more compelling.
In eight vignettes written by five women, the Brazen-Faced Varlets’ latest show tries to unveil the dynamics of how women wind up in prison. But in most cases, despite their emotional and sometimes brutal content, the stories are static.
Part of the problem is the monologue style of the show, with director Theresa DiMuro-Wilbur and her actresses having to construct and play out entire biographies in a matter of minutes. Even though the tiny back-room theater at Rust Belt Books on Grant Street creates its own intimacy, the characters feel removed from the audience. Each inmate’s story follows a similar pattern: This happened to me, so I did that. The triggers are familiar: Incest. Bullying. Mental illness. Loss and plain old greed. All mixed with bad choices, anger and self-pity.
The inmates and guards are played by Brittany Germano, Diane McNamara, Kajana Stover, Diane Michels, Caroline Parzy-Sanders, Chanyl White, Cierra Cappas and, in the stand-out story of the night, Jeni Arroyo. They are at their best in the opening when all are together, playing off one another as they recite how the numbers 6 by 8 relate to their cases. You can tell that the show would have had more energy if they had stayed together onstage, revealing their backgrounds more organically through “in-prison” interaction.
The individual pieces begin with Germano on a rant about how she fell victim to the men in her life, which is why she victimized others.
That’s followed by McNamara and Stover as cellmates trying to justify the major thefts that landed them behind bars, in their cases blaming the victims for having too much money and for trusting them.
The saddest case is Diane Michels as “Ellie,” a mentally impaired woman who has yet to understand her crime or how she got there. Runner-up is the transgender inmate in a piece written by Kelly Beuth. As ‘the Freak,” she cracks under the weight of bullying, only to land in a men’s prison for her crimes.
We get everyone back onstage for “Kaufman,” a quick tale of an inmate adept at drug confiscation who has a dangerous secret of her own.
And then the show closes with its power-piece, Jeni Arroyo as “Angela King,” a woman who steps up when her brothers are gunned down. Unlike the other inmates, Arroyo’s Angela is not contained by her surroundings, she owns them, embracing her criminal life and making no excuses.
It is a strong send-off.
“6 X 8” is not yet where it needs to be, but its stories all contain the seeds of something that can be bigger and deeper and better. For a window into how good theater can grow from the passion of its artists, and at only $15 or less per ticket, it is not a bad place to look.
“6 X 8”
2 stars (out of four)
A series of dramatic vignettes set in a women’s prison, presented by Brazen-Faced Varlets at Rust Belt Books, 415 Grant St. through Oct. 2. Tickets are $15 at the door; “pay what you can” on Thursdays. Info: www.varlets.org.