I, Con tells a story dealing with personal turmoil that is both unimaginable and yet all too real at the same time. Written and directed by Holly Payne-Strange, who also co-founded The Playing Company, the show is on for a short run at the Hudson Guild Theater.
This new play explores the connection between Camille, a young girl about to enter university, and Trent, the convict with whom she strikes up an epistolary relationship.Their letter-writing stirs up a lot of controversy – and not just from Camille’s family, who are less than pleased with the idea of their daughter communicating with a murderer.
The play exists in two dimensions: Camille and Trent’s letters, where both girl and inmate reveal more of themselves in writing than to those around them, and Camille’s relationship with her parents.
Camille and Trent’s letters are accompanied by choreography. Each letter writer has a dancer counterpart, and the two dance together to the tune of their letters. At times, they dance closely and familiarly. Angry words are paired with stomps and harsh, jerky movements. The choreography taps into a vein of emotion that reveals the shared humanity of Camille and Trent, prisoner or not.
Camille is open-minded, curious, and ambitious. Her relationships with inmates – nine of them, and all murderers – may introduce the first of many thought-provoking plot points for many audience members. I, Con doesn’t shy away from taboo topics. Explored throughout the course of the play are pedophilia, government spending, homosexuality, and conspiracy theories. What struck me about this play was the question of where to draw the line in tolerating other people’s intolerance. To what length can you ignore someone’s prejudices in the name of friendship?
Like Camille, Payne-Strange was inspired by a relationship with a friend in Supermax prison, citing his input as being highly influential in the play’s coming to be. The production is endorsed by writeaprisoner.com, the site that Camille uses to connect with Trent. Said Adam Lovell, a representative from the site who wrote a letter of endorsement for the program, “The media recently brought several stories to life, not only for the purpose of education, but to shed light on the possible injustices that many inmates experience…In the past, these inmates would never have received a voice or platform. Their stories would have ended with their trials.”
I, Con is a great example of artists using their influence to give the voiceless a chance to speak. Despite all this, the production fell short of its message with acting that didn’t quite reach the potential of the play. Some of the performances felt forced or unconvincing, and at times the dialogue was spoken too softly and was inaudible. However, I, Con has a very relevant message. It also opens a conversation that many don’t even think about – the life of convicts and the controversial management of U.S. prisons.