Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires

The Prisoner
Yale Repertory Theatre
Review by Fred Sokol | Season Schedule

Also see Fred's review of Thousand Pines and Zander's review of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Hiran Abeysekera
Photo by Joan Marcus
Receiving its U.S. premiere at New Haven's Yale Repertory Theatre through November 17th, The Prisoner is short, spare, haunting and indelible. The legendary Peter Brook, now 93, and Marie-Hélêne Estienne have collaborated on script and staging. Each of the play's 75 minutes is precisely marked. The characters, costumed by Alice Francois, wear either dark clothing or jeans. Philippe Vialatte's lighting is key as it indicates time of day or night.

A Visitor (Hayley Carmichael) narrates early by introducing Mavuso (Hiran Abeysekera), a wiry man who has killed his father for sleeping with Mavuso's sister Nadia (Kalieaswari Srinivasan). Mavuso, too, has had sexual relations with Nadia. Much of the story is charted through Nadia's appearances, whether they be soon thereafter or some years later.

Much larger than Mavuso is his uncle Ezekiel (Hervé Goffings), who inflicts punishing pain upon his nephew. For his crime, Mavuso is commanded to sit in front of a prison (here, facing the audience). Mavuso does not, however, ruminate and replay what he has done. David Violi's set consists of tree stumps, some dead branches and wood shavings. The walls for this production are black. Mavuso has almost nothing to fill his stomach. His initial sentence of two decades of staring at rather than functioning within the prison is shortened. Mavuso, for example, either imagines or actually eats a runt or rat or other creature he discovers. He sits or walks around his seeming desert confines. All is barren.

Ezekiel returns and prison guards come. The poignancy of Nadia's appearances to see Mavuso cannot be understated. These siblings committed incest and she truly cares for him. Mavuso is not a simplistic man. Brook and Estienne wisely elect not to provide him superfluous explanatory dialogue. He is not grand of stature but a physical presence, once climbing a stage left ladder. Mavuso tends to dart about. His crime, though, remains unspeakable.

The decision to have the guilty young man spend his days across from rather than inside the imagined prison is pivotal. His is a treacherous predicament, since only he can experience it. Were he one of many inmates, Mavuso might have experienced community.

Is killing ever justifiable? That question hovers just above the surface as The Prisoner runs its course. Only Mavuso can gain himself redemption; no one else is capable of assisting. Ezekiel is highly complex: he hurt Mavuso but then steps forward so that his nephew will not have to spend 20 years staring at a building. Mavuso, however, is forever guilty.

Movement within The Prisoner is specific and graceful. Even as characters walk, they are meticulous and disciplined. Nothing is rushed. Brook and Estienne clear space for some significantly silent moments. These sequences are potent and nerve wracking. Should those watching fill in the blanks? Will Mavuso break the trance and become far more loquacious?

Abeysekera, a performer from Sri Lanka, is a most versatile Mavuso. He seems to hear birds chirping, or does he? Srinivasan's Nadia is heartwrenching through her plight and then aspirations. Goffings, a French actor, has the difficult task of playing Ezekiel, a man who can be brutal or gentle.

One is left with lingering unanswered thoughts concerning Nadia. She is left wanting. She must, of necessity, be strong, but she hasn't any power. Nadia is is of utmost importance but the character would benefit from an augmented voice.

Ultimately, The Prisoner addresses morality and conscience but does so in atypical fashion without endlessly driving home its theme. The play is unusual and it is never boring.

The Prisoner, through November 17, 2018, at Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel St., New Haven CT. For tickets, call 203-432-1234 or visit