Cigarettes and Chocolate and Hang Up Review - The Sound of Silence

A talented British film director, playwright, and screenwriter, Anthony Minghella is probably best known for “The English Patient:” he received a BAFTA Award for best adapted screenplay and an Academy Award for best director in 1996. Almost ten years before, he had already won the Giles Cooper Award for Radio Drama in 1988 for his radio play, CIGARETTES AND CHOCOLATE, which is currently partnered with HANG UP. Initially a narrative for a dance piece which subsequently was broadcast as a radio play, HANG UP first aired in 1987.  In 2017, the Pacific Resident Theatre revived these two one-act radio dramas, both blessings from heaven for working actors who navigate these expressive lines.

Matt Letscher and Marwa Bernstein - Photo by Vitor Martins

Both plays approach intriguing concepts – the power of words…and the power of silence. Can talking be considered an addiction in our times? Or perhaps it is only by silence that people can begin to really listen. Gemma (Marwa Bernstein) has decided to give up talking for Lent. No one is sure why she selected silence as her goal; nevertheless, her numerous friends continue to call her answering machine, often nattering on about nothing in their confusion. This one-sided conversation inevitably leads to confession as each must rush to fill the silence.

Matt Letscher - Photo by Vitor Martins

Calls abound from her puzzled social circle, including boyfriend Rob (Matt Letscher), best friend Lorna (Ursula Brooke), not-very-secret admirer Alistair (Jason Duff Gwillim), and 18-week pregnant Gail (Tania Getty). As each attempts to uncover Gemma’s motivations for silence, their frequently trivial statements begin to approach some very profound territory. Happily, Marwa Bernstein manages to make Gemma’s silence as expressive as speech.

Matt Letscher and Marwa Bernstein - Photo by Vitor Martins

HANG UP deals with silence in a slightly different way by focusing on what is not said between people. He (Michael Balsley) and She (Molly Schaffer) are having a long-distance phone conversation – but are they saying anything meaningful? The real dialog – and any supercharged emotions - are hidden between the lines and only permitted to emerge fleetingly. As the authentic begins to materialize, there is only one thing to do. I’m sure that you can imagine what that is.

Matt Letscher and Marwa Bernstein - Photo by Vitor Martins

Award-winning director Michael Peretzian has his hands full making a very wordy radio play (despite the issue of silence) into a stage production. Luckily, he has a fine cast of experienced and talented members who breathe life into the proceedings. In addition, he is working from a script by a playwright whose particular strength is in dialog, an author who is able to blend real-life verbal meanderings with pauses, fill-ins, and the occasional flashes of insight – reached almost casually.

Since these two pieces are presented as radio plays, Mallory Gabbqard’s set design is simple: enough chairs to seat each cast member and several lecterns for intermittent monologues. The production team does a competent job of maintaining this as a radio play. This reviewer, however, couldn’t help but wonder if the occasional commercial might have added to the radio feel. Nevertheless, CIGARETTES AND CHOCOLATE and HANG UP are thought-provoking and involving. At the same time, they were also sometimes confusing; and the characters’ motivations were often vague. Perhaps trying to mimic “real life” does not hold a candle to the more satisfying “wrap-up” where all becomes crystal clear. Like the characters in the plays, the audience may become frustrated by a pervasive lack of clarity. Perhaps it is important to remember, however, that it is frustration and lack of closure which may lead to conversation after the show ends.

CIGARETTES AND CHOCOLATE and HANG UP run through September 10, 2017, with performances at 8 p.m. on Thursdays through Saturdays and at 3 p.m. on Sundays. The Pacific Resident Theatre is located at 703 Venice Blvd., Venice, CA 90291. Tickets range from $25 to $34 with discounts for seniors and students Thursdays and Fridays. For information and reservations, call 310-822-8392 or go online

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