It was a cold, crisp, and very lovely December night in New York. Just blocks away from The Lambs, both spectators and ice skaters were enjoying the festive scene below the magnificent Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, with its countless colored lights adding to the glow of the holiday scene. But at “3 West,” a very different holiday celebration was getting underway. Billed as a Lambs special event, the audience in the fifth floor Performance Space assembled to hear “a cold December reading” of Barbara Esposito’s new play, Quinn’s Last Christmas. While not a script designed to add to holiday cheer, it was a thought provoking work-in-progress, filled with unexpected twists and turns.
Lamb Peter Dizozza assembled the informal reading of this three-person family thriller. The players included talented Emma Bowers as Cassandra Briggs, along with Lambs Peter Kingsley (as Mitchell Phillips), Mr. Dizozza (as Frank Briggs), and Marc Baron (reading the stage directions of the script). The play opens in a small cell with bars on the windows. Cassandra is confined there, and when a man enters to interview her, the audience quickly perceives that she is a prisoner, and her lawyer, Mitchell Phillips, is there to find out what she knows about the earlier disappearance of her young son, Quinn. Bowers gives a compelling performance as the distraught mother who cannot understand why she is being held prisoner when the real focus should be on finding Quinn. She portrays a Cassandra full of rage and desperation, a mother who has extensively researched the many notorious cases where women have been accused of harming their own children. The contrasting calm of Mr. Kingsley’s performance as the cool, probing, and exceedingly patient attorney, adds to the tension of the piece. But wait — everything is not what it appears to be, and reasonable audience assumptions begin to crumble!
Enter Frank Briggs, Cassandra’s husband. In a scene where he meets privately in the attorney’s office, Dizozza gives a convincing performance as a distressed and anguished father who is anxious to have his wife restored to home and husband. Then, with growing despair, he drops the first unexpected bombshell, telling Phillips, “She doesn’t even remember her own son’s funeral.” Bit by bit, the audience realizes Cassandra is not in jail, but rather in a mental hospital; and Phillips is not her attorney, he is her Psychiatrist.
But questions still loom. How did Quinn die, and why does Cassandra appear to be implicated? As the clever plot unfolds, there are still more surprises. Cassandra is actually in delusional denial of Quinn’s hospital death from complications of Leukemia. Hence, her insistence that they must “find Quinn.” Dizozza was at his best in the wrenching scene where he describes the last days of his son’s agonizing illness. And just as the audience is empathizing with this very caring father, there comes yet another twist: Frank Briggs is charged with deliberately mercy-killing Quinn by adding saline solution to his hospital I.V. Did he really do it? Many insights were shared during the lively post-performance discussion with the attending author; but let’s leave just a bit of mystery in case readers can see a future production!