With an opening reminiscent of a Shades concert, women solemnly wash their clothes in a river, setting the scene for a play about loneliness, family and the pain of waiting.

“Widows,” by Ariel Dorfman, shares the slow, tormented air of the author’s other works like “Death and The Maiden” and

“Konfidenz.” Directed by Zachary Jacobson ’02, this production is both vivid and poignant, yet audience members will have their patience tried just as much as the widows on stage in this show that lasts over three hours.

Jacobson’s direction is meticulous and slow. The show opens with carefully choreographed scenes from the lives of the widows, setting the stage for a performance where every moment has been precisely planned and executed. These women suffer at the mysterious absence of their husbands, fathers and sons. Under the oppression of a sinister government, which remains largely unexplained throughout the play, they come to terms with the stagnant life that they lead and deal with hope, despair and their own weakness.

Megan O’Sullivan ’01 plays Sofia Fuentes, a powerful woman who waits by the river for her missing men. Under her direction, the women

of the town begin to rise against the government when faceless bodies begin drifting down their river. O’Sullivan’s performance is powerful, and she serves as an excellent anchor for this heavy play. Occasionally, Jacobson’s direction of her action is a little too much, and her chest-thumping and yelling falls out of synch with the otherwise subtle performances of the cast.

Ben Vershbow ’01 and Brian Johnson ’01 are stellar in their roles as army officers. Vershbow portrays the torn captain in charge of the area, and his character smoothly remains neither a good guy nor a bad guy for most of the show. Johnson delivers one of the strongest performances here as the smug and slimy lieutenant. His confrontation with Vershbow along the river, lit only by their jeep headlights, is one of the most powerful in the play.

Maya Goldsmith ’01 and Katie Robbins ’02 are also strong in their roles as O’Sullivan’s daughters, burdened by the weight of their loss and their mother’s slow descent into seeming madness. Erin Biernard ’03 also steals scenes as Fidelia, the strong granddaughter who is alone in the world.

Dorfman’s script calls for a narrator who performs apart from the action on stage, apparently writing the story as the audience watches it. This device is distracting and falls a little flat, despite the strong performance of Nathaniel Schenkkan ’02 as the narrator. Schenkkan confronts the audience, making eye contact and delivering his lines with appealing desperation.

Jacobson’s direction is beautiful at times, but it is too slow. While the length of the show could be an artistic statement in line with its subject matter, by the end of the show — which is its most compelling moment — the audience has been seated for over three hours, watching relatively little action. With a few cuts, faster scene changes and cue pickups, the show could be a lot more efficient.

The set, by F. Thomas Kinney DRA ’02 and Adam Wolf ’04, and lighting are an excellent addition to the production, serving to set an explicitly serene, yet forceful tone for the performance. The actual river flowing beneath the stage works well, and the lighting allows for dramatically lit scene changes. These elements only heighten the impact of this successful show.

Widows Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. University Theater