In Anna Moench’s In Quietness, that’s exactly what happens. The play opens with an uncomfortable-looking Paul (Blake Delong) sitting center stage, talking quietly to an unseen party. Moments later, Beth—Paul’s wife, played by actress Lucy DeVito—enters from behind, happy to see her husband but exhausted as she is just returning from a work trip. After a few failed attempts, Paul finally manages to blurt out that he’s been having a marital affair. What’s worse, the mistress with whom he was spending his time—unnamed, and most intentionally—was walking down the street and was hit by a car. She is now unresponsive and in a coma.
This early plot twist definitely sets the tone for the evening, but the complicated issues which In Quietness explores are anything but fully developed. In the wake of the accident, Paul is torn with a guilt which he cannot shake, a guilt which eventually guides him to a Southern Baptist Church in Texas, where he decides to leave his former life behind as a writer and devote himself to Christianity. He asks Beth—still his wife—to come with him and support him on his journey. Open to anything at this point, Beth goes to Texas and joins the Homemaking House, which is exactly like it sounds: a training ground for the young wives of aspiring pastors, where they are taught to manage and maintain every aspect of their future household. It is implied that this is the true purpose of a pastor’s wife, and that the role she plays in his life is meant to be viewed as a reflection of her unconditional love and support for her husband.
As Paul, Delong delivers a subtle and grounded performance; one in which the guilt of his given circumstances feels honest and heartfelt. DeVito’s Beth counters him well, and she succeeds in portraying a sympathetic character whose motivation is a complex web of conflicting emotions.
At the homemaking house, Beth is forced to bunk with Max, a devout Christian who believes that her life’s purpose is the unrelenting support and dedication to her fiancé’s—also an aspiring pastor—spiritual calling. Played by Kate MacCluggage, Max is a woman who at first appears naïve and simplistic in her beliefs, however an interesting turn in this character’s motivations leads to a profound statement by the author on the traditional roles of both men and women in relationships.
Directed by Danya Taymor, In Quietness excels in its exploration of intimacy. When dialogue is being spoken between two actors at a time, there are moments of silence that are loaded with implication. It is a credit to the director that more character development happens with nothing being said at all rather than when a character is speaking. Kristen Robinson’s set design is efficient enough—the whole stage is made to look like the inside of a chapel—though it is made much more effective by intelligent lighting design by Masha Tsimring and Caitlyn Rappaport.
In the end, Anna Moench’s In Quietness is a complicated play lying somewhere between a romance and a tragedy. The play successfully questions spirituality and what it means to have faith, the roles men and women play in relationships now vs. forty years ago, and above all critically examines guilt and the journey towards reconciliation.
In Quietness (through January 30, 2016)
Dutch Kills Theater
Walkerspace, 46 Walker Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.dutchkillstheater.com
Running time: one hour and 45 minutes with no intermission