'Time Alone': Theater Review

Courtesy of David Morrison
Tonya Pinkins in 'Time Alone'
Emotionally charged performances and poetic writing mark a powerful debut.

Arnold Schwarzenegger and California politicos turn out for playwright Alessandro Camon's stunning world premiere starring Tony winner Tonya Pinkins and Alex Hernandez.

In its inaugural production, Belle Reve Theatre Company presents the world premiere of Time Alone, an inspired two-hander that casts a jaundiced eye on the criminal justice and prison systems. Alessandro Camon's poetically remorseful play is brought to life through a pair of brilliant performances, from Tony winner Tonya Pinkins (Jelly’s Last Jam; Caroline, or Change), as a grieving mother, and Alex Hernandez as a convicted murderer.

The light comes up stage right on Gabriel Wayland (Hernandez) in his cell, telling the audience how he got there. A revenge killing for the murder of a girl landed him 50 years to life. When asked, “How was your childhood?,” he takes a cue from a Clint Eastwood movie and responds, “Short,” later adding, “I never even been to Chuck E. Cheese!”

The light goes down on Wayland and comes up stage left on Anna Jackson (Pinkins) in a dun-colored kitchen. Eager for time to pass and wounds to heal, she is nevertheless in no hurry. “When you hurry the future, you wish your life away,” she says, ruminating on how tragedy makes outcasts of us all.

Wayland lands in solitary confinement and we learn of boredom and the manifestations of madness — "shit artists" who use feces to create, a "bungee jumper" is a suicide by hanging and "bug juice" keeps those on the edge from bugging out.

Jackson wonders if there’s anything mankind won’t kill as the execution of her boy’s murderer draws near. In the lead-up to the event, she lists a multitude of creatures that have fallen prey to human hands. And when it’s over, she finds her wounds are still raw, declaring, "Closure is a myth."

Liberal apologists are chastised for wanting to save the environment while flying business class and advocating for diversity while living in gated communities. Wayland bites his tongue at one counselor, stifling the words, "Your daddy gave you a car! My daddy gave me a three-inch scar!" Time in solitary confinement begins to warp his judgment, illustrated by Keith Skretch's impressive projections on Francois-Pierre Couture's utilitarian bicameral set. "Time is an illusion," Wayland tells us. "But you still have to live in it."

Jackson’s unadorned kitchen serves as a cocoon of grief where isolation likewise impacts her. She wants to go backward and return to happier days when she "loved the sound of Super Mario in the morning." Of course she can’t, but the present for her is unbearable.

Camon employs the same grim nuance that was so successful in his Oscar-nominated screenplay for The Messenger, which starred Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster as soldiers tasked with delivering bad news to the families of the fallen. Time Alone is the product of the writer's volunteer work in the California juvenile and justice systems. He has visited Pelican Bay State Prison (where the fictionalized Wayland is held), including the Secure Housing Unit, otherwise known as solitary confinement.

His familiarity with the subject brings immediacy as well as emotional and psychological veracity to his writing. Pinkins and Hernandez harmoniously complement each other, thematically connected but constitutionally apart. Their work with director Bart DeLorenzo enhances the humanity in Camon’s dueling monologues. But as engaging as it is for the first hour of the intermissionless 90-minute span, Time Alone could use a trim.    

Camon is husband to the play’s co-producer, Suzanne Warren (Hacksaw Ridge), who worked with Belle Reve founder and artistic director and executive producer Michelle M. Nunez. If Time Alone is any indication, Belle Reve can be counted on for great productions to come. Part of the new company’s mission is to advocate for social change through theater. Before last year’s election, there were stirrings of bipartisan prison reform efforts. But since then, Donald Trump’s proposals include new federal mandatory minimum sentencing, which experts believe will only exacerbate existing problems.

Because Nunez is married to former speaker of the California assembly Fabian Nunez, the opening-night audience included people like former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sen. Kamala Harris, Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson, philanthropist Eli Broad and former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. When the lights came up, there was little doubt the play had a moving effect on them — hopefully enough to move them to action.

Venue: Los Angeles Theatre Center, Los Angeles
Cast: Tonya Pinkins, Alex Hernandez
Director: Bart DeLorenzo
Playwright: Alessandro Camon
Set designer: Francois-Pierre Couture
Costume designer: Ingrid Ferrin
Lighting designer: Pablo Santiago-Brandwein
Sound designer: John Zalewski

Projection designer: Keith Skretch
Presented by Belle Reve Theatre Company, Los Angeles Theatre Center, The Latino Theater Company