``A Woman Without a Name,'' by Obie Award-winning playwright Romulus Linney, discloses the life and thought of a woman in desperate evolution. The Denver Center Theater's production of the unsettling new play illustrates once again that regional theater thrives by fostering worthy new work. Flawed though it is, ``A Woman'' offers some insight into human thought -- and into the creative process. In a small Southern town in 1900, through the winding darkness of tragic personal loss, the woman of the title keeps a journal. She speaks aloud what she has written, at first with little expression, struggling with spelling and pronunciation. As her insights grow, her journal writing becomes more refined. She writes terrible things, yet learns to think like a writer as she jots down what she observes and tries to make sense of it. She cannot lie to this journal she is impelled to keep, and she learns to stop justifying her motives, recognizing in bitter honesty her own mental culpability for her sorrows.
Linney sets the Woman at the center of her world of family, neighbors, even an enemy. She takes center stage; the others sit in chairs at the back and enter the action as the journal entries describe, interacting with the Woman, forming the church choir, the Christmas characters, mourners at a funeral.
There is very little story. Three out of four of her adult children die; the fourth leaves blaming her for the family's afflictions; her husband takes to drink. But at her worst moments, having faced her failings, she rises to act creatively in these grim circumstances.
The turn of the century saw great things in the women's movement, especially the temperance campaign. As Linney discloses, it derived urgency and power principally from women who united to help battered wives and families who were starved and abused by alcoholic husbands. Integrity, fortitude, and intelligence -- more than self-righteousness -- guided these people.
Because the temperance movement was ridiculed by the popular media, the truth about it was somewhat suppressed after Prohibition. Linney reveals with intelligence the strong quality of thought required to lead it, as well as the authentic impetus behind it. The Woman is enabled by her honesty and her endurance to lead her neighbors in the cause, not because of her suffering, but because of the strength she has developed despite it.
Kathleen Chalfont achieves a harsh candor as the Woman and illumines the depression of her character with increasing intensity. The supporting performances were all fine, particularly Frank Georgianna, who, as the wronged Dr. Craig, creates a layered, urgent persona. Director Donovan Marley's delicate economy of staging moves the cast gracefully through the action of the play, sustaining the cadences of Linney's poetic dialogue. Marley's envisionment of the play as ``the historical odyssey of women in t his century'' has been realized in his production. The blue-grays and blacks of the costumes and the stern simplicity of the set reflect the sobriety of the subject and lend a formal dignity to the piece.
Linney, a Southerner, has been deeply influenced by the Bible as well as masters of Southern literature, especially William Faulkner. Unfortunately, a few pretentious metaphors and maudlin sentiments nearly subvert Linney's intent at times.
Yet, ``A Woman Without a Name'' presents a stark vision of human endurance in the face of great loss. Face to face with her own transgressions, the Woman declares, ``I am guilty. I am judged. I am free.''