The play opens in a sixth-floor walk up in Manhattan, north of Central Park in Harlem. The apartment has a single window, the frame of which has been painted over so many times it will not open. It is a hot night, and there is no air conditioning. Elspeth Williams’ set design, a tiny apartment framed by plastic PVC pipe painted gray, is a cage for a woman — once a woman of means, now alone save for her younger sister. Josephine (Ruth Crawford) is tall and elegant, dressed in an evening dress with nowhere to go. This is her story.
“A Painted Window” is a plaintive tale of a woman who flew too close to the sun, lost her wings and came crashing to earth in a desperate manner. Josephine, a former actress, married well but then lost everything in a Ponzi scheme. She was forced to move into her sister’s rat-hole apartment, which is furnished with an array of entertaining junk assembled by properties designer Michelle Raymond.
Josephine is aloof, unconsciously arrogant, a Yankee equivalent to the desperate Blanche DuBois of “Streetcar” fame. Crawford conveys Josephine’s former elegance with sweeping dramatic movements and frequent curses at the rat-infested apartment. Her sister, Sylvia (Dominique Lowell), pesters Josephine with stories of sisterly conflicts from long ago.
Sylvia is the polar opposite of her elder sister. She is naturally optimistic, seeing only the good in everything. Despite the exotic name, Sylvia is a rumpled dwarf of a character who looks like she slept in her clothes and doesn’t care if you know it. She has heart, but not quite as much as the perpetually sunny building supervisor, Charles (Lynch Travis). Charles is an angel in disguise who almost charms Josephine into authenticity. Almost. And there’s the rub. What could have been a redeeming moment in a slow-moving piece of theater ultimately goes nowhere.
The trio drifts through a dance of despair that doesn’t end well. Actually, it doesn’t really end at all. A puzzling cliffhanger leaves the audience wondering what will become of Josephine. No Hallmark ending here.
“A Painted Window”
Through Feb. 26th
8 p.m. Thursday-Friday; 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday
$25 Thursday/$30 Friday and Saturday evenings/$27 matinee/$10 students/$2 discount for seniors and military
122 S. Putnam St., Williamston
(517) 655-7469, williamstontheatre.org