"Did you have sex with that woman?" This is not a question from a bygone era's congressional hearing, although the echo is unmistakable. Rather it comes from a wife, Leigh (Sarah Paulson) whose husband Tom (Garret Dillahunt), a dynamic theater teacher has been convicted of inappropriate behavior with a female student, and is just back home after having served three years in prison. Leigh is 99% sure he's innocent, but Carey Crim's Conviction, now in its world premiere at Bay Street Theater, is concerned about that 1%, and the effect of that margin of doubt not only on her, but their son Nicholas (Daniel Burns), and their best friends Bruce (Brian Hutchison) and Jayne (Elizabeth Reaser).
This theme may seem plucked off the headlines, but as directed by Bay Street's new artistic director Scott Schwartz, the excellent cast maintains suspense, as the characters take unexpected positions with respect to the incident. Perhaps most surprising is Jayne's protective maternal aversion to Tom, asking Bruce to keep their daughters away. With the flip of a wrist, Reaser's Jayne instantly commands Bruce's attention, showing who wears the pants in that couple. That one gesture supplies an ice breaking humor to the serious and engrossing drama. Paulson is especially good as Leigh, conveying the complexity of a wife's dilemma, especially as she has taken on the difficulties of becoming a single mom and breadwinner in her husband's absence.
You could hear that proverbial pin drop at Saturday night's sold out performance, hear an audience inaudibly contemplating, what would I do if I were married to this man? Tom's guilt is beside the point, even as you remember the play's beginning, before he was put away, when he, joking about Shakespeare, uttered the words, "Kiss my codpiece."
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.