Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron
Also see Mark's review of The Woman Hater
Parts of this play are extremely emotional, with bouts of screaming and shouting that some audience members may find unsettling. It is "in your face theater" and not for the timid of heart. The play begins with a video montage of black slave images while the actors dance, shout, and scream through the various eras of pre-Civil War, post Civil War, chain gangs, and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Just when you begin to think that the play has become mired in a "poor black folks" rant which attempts to connect with the current social culture, it straightens itself out and gets back to the main subject matter, that of the circumstances surrounding the shooting.
Tamir Rice was an energetic 12 year old who suffered from ADHD. He was well liked in school, in the community, and especially loved by his family. In short, he was a good kid with a lot of energy. On that fateful day in November of 2014 the Cleveland police officers who killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice were responding to a 911 call reporting a person with a "probably fake" gun. "There is a guy with a pistol," the caller had said. "It's probably fake, but he's like pointing it at everybody." Toward the end of the two-minute call, the caller stated "he is probably a juvenile." The call went out to Cleveland Police Officer Timothy Loehmann and his partner Frank Garmback, who raced to the scene. They were erroneously told by the dispatcher that there was "a male with a gun."
In the dusk of early evening, the pair of officers drove their cruiser across the grassy area, stopped, and two seconds after exiting the car Officer Loehmann shot Tamir. With the boy lying on the ground bleeding, they subdued and handcuffed Tamir's sister who had attempted to come to his aid. The young man died the next day at Metro Health Hospital. In December of 2015, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor, Timothy J. McGinty announced that a grand jury had declined to indict the two officers. The family had filed a wrongful death suit against the two officers and the city of Cleveland, and in April of 2016 the city agreed to a $6 million settlement while admitting no wrongdoing.
In 2015, members of Playwrights Local took to the streets to interview various family members, neighbors, teachers, legal experts, community activists, caterers, students, contractors, mothers of like aged children, and others in order to put a recognizable face on this tragedy. What they came back with was enough material to fill nearly two hours of stage time through a series of dramatic monologues. This collection of firsthand accounts, opinions, quiet reflections, and rants manage to cover all facets of opinion concerning the shooting.
There are anti-cop and pro-cop characters, "who do we blames", radical militants, and just plain concerned citizens all voicing their opinion. Why are these gun replicas being sold with a removable orange safety ring? Why are black men conceived as a threat? Why was Tamir not seen as a young boy instead of an adult? Why were the police officers not trained better? Whatever happened to the neighborhood police officer who knew all the kids? and two seconds after exiting the car Officer Loehmann shot Tamir. Why was there a delay in getting medical treatment? Why did the dispatcher not relay valid information to the police officers? Why did the city turn out with 1.3 million people for the Cavs' victory parade but hardly anyone protested Tamir's death? How can we eliminate this attitude of fear and violence and build bridges of trust between the police and those they serve?" The questions go on and on.
Deeper still, this incident has opened up a dialog on the "siege mentality" and occupying force with the use of excessive brutality primarily found in the poorer sections of Cleveland as well as other major cities. By the end of the play you may look for answers. The play is the answer, for it has forced people to confront a failing system in which citizens no longer feel protected or served as promised.
There is a lot of emotion being let go in this work with shouting and even screaming. Strobe lights heighten the effect. Profanity is held mostly to just one sequence but that monologue is chock full of obscenities directed at the police. This is a play from which to learn.
With a bare stage and just three wooden boxes as props, any dialogue mistakes are bound to be easily spotted. There were a few at the performance I attended, but not enough to detract from the overall message. The one drawback is the size of the venue, which has limited seating. This play will most probably be a sell-out through its entire run but needs to be presented in a much larger theatrical setting.
As in all things of our great and varied society it takes a senseless tragedy to bring attention to a much larger problem. Objectively/Reasonable is the window through which all can view the inequity of law enforcement activity in less advantaged Cleveland neighborhoods. It is a show that should be seen by police officers and citizens alike in order to break the silence and begin a dialog in which community and safety officials unite in a common cause. If not, we are doomed to repeat this tragedy over and over again.
While the entire cast (which ranged from age 10 to veteran actors) does a phenomenal job, of special note is Ashley Aquila whose poignant and tearful portrayal of Samaria Rice (Tamir's mother) is the high water mark of the play. Suddenly, a face and life is given where only empty space had been before. It has a sudden and dramatic impact on the audience.
Cast members of Objectively/Reasonable include veterans Ashley Aquilla, India Burton, Ananias Dixon, Jameka Terri, Lashawn Little, Brenton Lyles, and Nathan Tolliver who will be joined by two young actors Kali Hatten and ten year old Samone Cummings.
Objectively/Reasonable will run through September 4, 2016, with performances from Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. The show will be staged at the Creative Space at Waterloo Arts that is located at 397 E. 156th Street, Cleveland, Ohio. Ticket prices are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and $10 for students with group discounts available. Tickets may be purchased online at playwrightslocal.org.