Review Written by Danielle Fox
Pittsburgh playwright and director Bonnie Cohen shows audiences what happens to our nation’s youths behind bars in her new play, Day Room Window.
The show was born from Cohen’s time counseling nine girls incarcerated as adults in a corrections center in Washington state. The girls’ lack of rehabilitation horrified and stuck with Cohen. Ten years later, she wrote this play to give the girls a voice.
The independent production premiered last Thursday, and opens with the young inmates perched throughout the New Hazlett Theater’s three-tiered set. A spotlight flashes from girl to girl as each divulges snippets of her conviction story: drunk driving, manslaughter, assault and other undisguised horrors. Quick and fittingly abrasive, the strong opening scene puts them in a key spot for Cohen to show their personal growth throughout the plot.
Caroline White, a prison matron played by Debra Gordon, runs the center, which brings in Naomi, a counselor played by Jennifer Tober, to teach the girls and facilitate a female-issues class every Friday.
Washington-state law allows for zero contact with adult inmates, and the girls are caged in a “day room,” growing ever more unruly and angry. Despite their conditions, the girls warm a bit more to Naomi each week, revealing their broken home lives but also their individual talents and creativity.
Cohen’s play is spotted with overdone moments possibly intended to be feel-good scenes, but the young actresses’ satisfying performances hold it together. Alona Williams and Ada Zech, respectively playing inmates
Jade and Julie, both display raw stage prowess. Overall, the play is a strong showcase for Pittsburgh’s acting future.
However, pursuing social justice rarely equals pure entertainment. At points, watching Day Room Window is exhausting work. The show is performed without intermission, and audiences are hit with the girls’ stories of injustice, mental illness and sexual assaults without a break and before they can recover from the previously revealed tragedy.
Tober’s performance could also do with a bit less overbearing motherly love. Her strongest moments are late in the play when she speaks plainly with the girls about employing psychological rituals to curb violent thoughts.
Still, the educational value of Day Room Window is unmatched by anything in Pittsburgh theaters currently. It is a fearless undertaking by all those involved, and for the price of a ticket, you’ll leave a more compassionate human being.
Day Room Window has four more performances, at 7:30 p.m. nightly tonight through Saturday. Tickets are $10-20 and are available here.
The New Hazlett is located at 6 Allegheny Square East (412-320-5842), on the North Side.