It ain't no Mama Mia! My journey last Friday night into the realm of a 1950's women's correctional facility was all I imagined it would be. Filled with neurotic and over-the-top characters and some disturbing situations, the Alley Theater's production of Women Behind Bars is provocative, darkly humorous, a little more than unsettling, and quite well done.
Set against the perfectly rough backdrop of the reclaimed warehouse at the Pointe in Butchertown, the show profiles the lives of female inmates housed in a prison under the watch of the viciously ridiculous Matron. The monochromatic theme running through both the set (Scott Davis) and the costume design (Rachel French) propels theatre-goers even deeper into the bleak lives of the characters.
The ensemble cast works extremely well together; and even on opening night, the many transitions spanning time and space were smooth and seamless. Director Kathi E.B. Ellis has led these capable actors in the creation of effective tableaus and the powerful use of suggestion.
The story tracks quickly through seven years as Mary (compellingly characterized by Dana Hope) is thrown into prison for a crime she didn't commit. After a disturbing initiation into the women's community, Mary is accepted into this extremely dysfunctional family, led by ringleader Gloria (in a strong performance by April Singer). But things aren't always as they seem. Even as her cellmates surround her with a facade of protection, when push comes to shove, that wall quickly crumbles--and the women show loyalty to no one but themselves.
Women Behind Bars runs through March 12, and is for mature audiences only. Tickets are $16.00 in advance at The Alley Theater or through the box office at 502-713-6178
Photo: Courtesy of The Alley Theater