Donna Hokes' "The Way it Is"
REVIEW: By Anthony Chase
Colleen Pine and Jacob Applegate in Donna Hoke's play, "The Way it Is"
There is a definite air of Strindberg to Donna Hoke’s play, “The Way It Is.” As in Strindberg’s “Miss Julie” or “The Stronger,” two characters with a powerful connection and a power imbalance between them explore the nature of that imbalance. There are unhealed injuries from past infractions, and future consequences that hover like rainclouds. And of course, there is deepfelt pain.
Here, we need Yasmine and Cane. The two had been in an eight-year relationship. They were engaged to be married for half that time. But then, Cane left. He is now seeing another woman. She’s younger, we will learn. He’s turned a new page as if the past eight years had never happened.
On this night, he’s returned to the apartment he and Yasmine used to share to get his things. He particularly wants his mother’s wedding ring back. He’d given it to Yasmine as a token of his love and his commitment to spend the rest of his life with her. So much for promises.
Yasmine told him she wouldn’t be home, but she is. She’s not merely home, she’s lying in wait. As the play begins, she is setting out a bottle of wine with two glasses. She carefully, yet casually, places one of Cane’s shirts across a living room chair. She pointedly locks the drawer of a side table. She is setting the scene. Maybe she is setting a trap. When Cane lets himself in, using the key he was supposed to have returned, the game is afoot.
Director Sabrina Kahwaty artfully stages the back and forth that ensues as a game of cat and mouse. The balance will fall to Yasmine, then over to Cane, and back and forth.
The playwright has said that we all know couples like this: two people in a relationship that goes on and on, but for all that, never seems quite permanent. Yasmine and Cane went so far as to become officially engaged, but even after four years, they never married. On the other hand, we’ve all known married couples like this. After years of seeming happiness together, somebody simply bails out. Yes, we have all known this couple.
But there is something decidedly different about these two, or at least about Yasmine. When Cane finally moves out after eight years of pacing back and forth, Yasmine, predictably and understandably dissolved into a puddle of tears and regret, second-guessing herself as she fixated on every moment of the past eight years. Her sense of betrayal is tempered only by an equal dose of bewilderment.
Tonight, she will claim compensation for that betrayal.
The price paid for eight years of waiting is higher for a woman than it is for a man, she reasons. In exchange for promises made by Cane, she has made sacrifices, particularly in terms of her child-bearing years. By contrast, he has swiftly and happily moved on to another woman.
His reasons he states for leaving Yasmine seem somewhat disingenuous and vague. It seems that seeing his father fall apart after the loss of his wife and the mother of his children far too soon, made him realize he did not feel that way about Yasmine. How could he? They’d shared none of those experiences. Those are he experiences Cane had promised to Yasmine but had never delivered.
Yasmine will surrender the ring, but she feels she is entitled to something rather substantial in return.
The Donna Hoke twist is that as the back and forth ensues, we begin to realize that Yasmine is, perhaps, not quite stable. We begin to see the flashes of why Cane might have had doubts.
At the same time, we can see how self-absorbed and uncommunicative Cane can be. We learn that he sought counseling, without ever telling Yasmine there was a problem. Yasmine demonstrates to him, unequivocally, that he still desires her sexually; familiarity, he says.
No matter. When all is said and done, no matter who is to blame, Yasmine comes up the loser. For Cane, that’s just the way is it. Not so fast, reasons Yasmine.
Colleen Pine is charismatic and lends an off-handed comic air to Yasmine. She’s fun. She’s exciting and spontaneous, often unpredictable. She creates a woman whose most appealing qualities are also her most off-putting. She is compelling. She is also frustrating.
Jacob Applegate provides a perfect contrast as Cane. He is only funny by accident. His greatest moments of sincerity are also entirely opaque. Whereas Yasmine’s complexity and contradictions are projected in neon, Cane’s are hidden, making him both compelling, and oh yes, frustrating.
The play’s tight 60 minutes keep us tightly engaged in this interplay. The tiny stage of the Alleyway cabaret heightens a sense of claustrophobia for Cane and a place where Yasmine can exert control.
As the play ends, we are left to wonder what will happen for these two people. Surely there are consequences to come? Why should Cane be any more successful bonding with his new love than he was with Yasmine? Will the compensation that Yasmine extracts from this night come back to punish her?
We can not know, and that’ just the way it is.