By Adam Markovitz
Updated May 17, 2010 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: Carol Rosegg

The program notes for This Wide Night, a one-act British drama making its stateside debut at Off Broadway’s Peter Jay Sharp Theater, tell us that play was conceived by its author, Chloë Moss, after she attended a playwriting residency designed to introduce her to female ex-cons.

It’s no surprise, then, that the show revolves around two such women: young, impetuous Marie (In Treatment‘s Alison Pill), and middle-aged, world-weary Lorraine (Nurse Jackie star Edie Falco). The story begins when Lorraine, fresh off a 12-year sentence, shows up at Marie’s dumpy apartment in an unspecified British town. The two were best friends ”inside,” and they chat about old times, Lorraine’s estranged son, and Marie’s new dead-end job. Lorraine insists she’s just dropped by for a quick hello. It spoils nothing, given the show’s single set and two-person cast, to say that her visit isn’t quite so brief.

What is surprising, as Lorraine’s stay stretches from hours to days, is the extent to which these two women are fully, almost tangibly alive on the stage. The characters smack of truth in the manner of portraits drawn from observation. They speak in the rhythms of conversation, not exposition; they behave with the reassuring unpredictability of life. As they wile away days in idle chatter, their co-dependence grows in ways that surprise them both. We seem to be watching them on a surveillance camera, wardens of the new jail they’ve made for themselves.

As Lorraine, Falco builds a character from gestures: nervous pacing, fidgety hands, a crusty laugh. She brings pride to Lorraine’s desperation and humor to her pain. And while her working class accent wanders a bit from Brighton to Brooklyn, her emotional hold on the part is unshakable. It’s as indelible a character as any of Falco’s celebrated roles on screen, a statement not to be made lightly. It’s also no faint praise to say that Pill more than holds her own. The odd dip into stagy telegraphing doesn’t undercut her palpable conviction in the role, and she peels away the layers of Marie’s self-defense with mesmerizing skill.

But for all its heart and intelligence, and for all the skill of its makers, This Wide Night leaves a surprisingly slight impression. The clear-eyed resolution, flawlessly played by Pill and Falco, is just too small to reach the cathartic heights of great theater. It takes no false steps, but also no chances, leaving us with an unfortunate realization when the lights come up: Drama has requirements that real life can’t always fulfill. A-

(Tickets: or 212.279.4200)