A prison story

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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

All great plays tell a story . . . but not all stories make a play.

Writer Alessandro Camon tells a story in the Belle Rêve production of Time Alone. Actually, he tells two stories: one from a man who committed a crime, the other from a woman who fell victim to a crime.

Moments after walking into the theater the architecture of the story becomes clear. On the right we see Anna's kitchen, a simple table with three chairs, stove, fridge, and screen door affair. On the left we're peering into Gabriel's prison cell. The one piece stainless steel toilet bowl/sink is what gives it instantly away and while it's certainly not spacious - if you took the toilet away you might mistake it for the outdoor concrete in someone's modern garden. It feels more minimalist design than incarceration architecture.

These two spaces, isolated but sharing an open middle wall will form the two sides of our journey as we ping-pong between two mostly self-contained monologues.

We begin with Gabriel who, in direct address to the audience, tells us the story of his tough upbringing, "short" childhood, and the crime that trapped him in the penal system.

After we've gotten a little way into Gabriel's tale, we shift to Anna at her kitchen table relating the journey of her life. We hear how she met her husband. We hear how they had a child. We hear suddenly how her husband died and left her as a single mother. We hear how her son was killed.

If it feels a bit like I'm just going through a litany of details without a lot of drama - that's the feeling and structure of the play. Well, it's not really a "play" because there isn't any real obstacle facing these two characters.

Don't get me wrong, it's not that the stories don't contain difficulty. They do. We're being told a convict and crime victim tale often in sensational detail and it's well told: Tonya Pinkins plays Anna, and as all the marketing material will be quick to tell you, she's a Tony Award-winning Broadway actor. Together with her co-star Alex Hernandez who plays Gabriel and director Bart DeLorenzo, they mine the story for all the drama it has.

The trouble is a story isn’t a play. A play is about a character working out what comes next. These stories are about everything that’s happened up until now and until the very final moments of the 90 minute evening safely contained both spatially and temporally.There is no dramatic action in an Aristotelian sense .

What we're left with is a familiar prison redemption story -- which is moving and at times shocking but it ends up feeling more didactic than theatrical.

It’s clear the Belle Rêve Theatre Company, which produced Time Alone has both passion and money. (This isn’t the kind of boot strap production you typically see with a new theater company.) And this is clearly a tale they need to tell and it's one that may even move you if not ultimately surprise you.

Just remember, just because a story is well told doesn’t make it theater.

Time Alone plays at Los Angeles Theatre Center downtown through October 29.

For info on the show and to subscribe to the weekly KCRW theater newsletter, check out kcrw.com/theater.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission