As a title, one could say Time Alone has two meanings. One is literally that of time spent alone, without companionship. The other is more “time, alone,” a representation of the all-consuming and ever-changing perception of time and how it can affect our lives. Both are on display in this world premiere play, currently running at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, the inaugural production of the Belle Rêve Theatre Company presented in association with the Latino Theatre Company. In it, two people describe their own unique relationships with time and loneliness, resulting in a moving and intimate character piece that also touches on larger themes.
Written by Academy Award nominee Alessandro Camon, Time Alone tells two stories. One is of Gabriel (Alex Hernandez), who murdered a gang rival while on meth at age 17 and was sentenced to life in prison. Now in solitary confinement, he is quite literally spending all of his time utterly alone. The other is of Anna (Tony winner Tonya Pinkins), a woman whose formerly happy life was overtaken by grief after her husband died of a heart attack and her son, a police officer, was shot and killed in the line of duty. Forced by tragedy into a different kind of solitude, Anna struggles to cope with the stark “before” and “after” that now divides her life.
Smartly directed by Bart DeLorenzo, the set is divided in half, with one side comprising Gabriel’s jail cell and the other Anna’s simple kitchen. The actors address only the audience, telling their stories in powerful performances. Anna is immediately sympathetic—the terrible events in her story are things that happened to her as she sat, powerless, unable to stop her life from changing irrevocably. Gabriel, however, is far more difficult to immediately relate to and sympathize with, even though the playwright clearly intends us to. While he did, in fact, murder someone as part of a drug-fueled revenge plot, he shows clear remorse, and stories from his childhood indicate he never had a fair chance in life. His father would beat him and call him “Forty Bucks” because that was the amount his parents came up short when they tried to visit an abortion clinic. It does not help Gabriel’s case that once in jail, he violently beats a man and gets involved in illicit smuggling, resulting in his being sent to the SHU (Secure Housing Unit), or isolation facility. Thanks to a convincing performance from Hernandez, you do feel for Gabriel at least a little by the play’s end, although Anna is very much the heart of the piece.
Time Alone is a play that demands the patience of its audience. The pay-off pertaining to how these two seemingly incongruous stories are connected takes a long time to come, so long you will wonder if there even is one, or if the tales are tied by theme only. But rest assured that everything does come together, and it does so beautifully. Camon’s writing and the performances of Pinkins and Hernandez are so strong that the play might benefit from even fewer frills, namely stylized lighting and projections that drive home the point of scenes. They didn’t feel necessary in such a quiet piece and instead distracted from the emotionality of the work, which could easily stand on its own.
There is a clear, topical commentary on the American justice system to be found here. Much attention is paid to the inhumanity of solitary confinement, and to the way that Gabriel’s entire life was taken from him as a result of a crime committed as a minor. The man who killed Anna’s son is given the death penalty and she attends his execution, expecting it to be satisfying in some way. She is left cold, even confused by the ease of the whole affair, the generosity of the gluttonous last meals provided to those on Death Row, unable to shake that her son did not get to choose his own last meal. Another spectator congratulates her at the execution, but she is well aware anything short of her son coming back to life is not enough to warrant congratulations. Forgiveness is another major theme: Gabriel wants nothing more than forgiveness from the mother of the boy he killed, while Anna struggles to understand the point of the act of forgiveness at all. Overall, Time Alone is an affecting story about what happens when human connection is lost, and if it is possible to find it again.
Time Alone runs at the Los Angeles Theatre Center in downtown LA through October 29th. The running time is 90 minutes, no intermission. Tickets range from $30 to $55 and can be purchased here.