Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: New Jersey

The Rant: Deft and Sophisticated Socio-Political Theatre

Rahaleh Nassri and Mark Hairston
A sixteen-year-old black youth has been fatally shot by a police officer on the porch of his parental home in the East New York section of Brooklyn. The shooting was followed by a riot during which neighborhood residents threw rocks at police officers on the scene. Lila Mahnaz, an investigator for the civilian Department to Investigate Misconduct and Corruption, is conducting an inquiry into the incident. Sgt. Clark, the white officer who shot the boy, retired shortly thereafter. The boy's mother, Denise Reeves, tells Mahnaz that she saw a black policeman, Charles Simmons, hold her son down on the ground while Clarke shot him. Simmons, Clarke's driver, tells her that he never left his police vehicle and did not witness the shooting. Mahnaz, who believes Reeves' version of events, leaks her interview of Reeves to a newspaper reporter in the belief that its publication will bring this injustice to public attention and force the police department to uncover its own criminality.

This is the set-up for The Rant, the new play by Andrew Case which is being presented by the New Jersey Rep, a member of the National New Play Network, in one of three "rolling world premiere" regional theatre productions. What sets The Rant apart from run of the mill policiers is the complexity of the characters and its insightful exposition of the social foment and injustice promulgated by the deeply ingrained prejudices which poison too many of us. If you think that those of any particular race or political persuasion are immune to this poison, then The Rant will likely make you uncomfortable (and you need to see it).

Author Case has written an excellent, extended rant/monologue for the cynical newspaper reporter which begins by informing us that the Amsterdam News took a position when white Duke lacrosse players were accused of raping a black woman diametrically opposite from the position they took when Kobe Bryant was accused of raping a white woman. An all too true description of the no win situation that racial and gender animosities place us in is part of his monologue :

Tell me what you believe about these two cases and I will prove you are a bigot. If you believe that despite Ms. Faber's bruises Kobe was framed; and DNA be damned, the lacrosse players are guilty, you have decided ... that black voices are to be trusted more than white. If you believe Kobe is the rapist, if the semen from three different men in Ms. Faber's underwear gives you no pause; and you think the Duke lacrosse players hired two strippers for their drunken brawl and behaved like perfect gentlemen, you are a racist, believing the white accuser and the white accused. If you think both women are lying, you are a sexist, and if you take both women at their word, you are biased against men. That's it—there is no answer to get you off the hook. You believe the women, you believe the men, you believe the whites, or you believe the blacks.

Under the swift, sure-handed direction of Jesse Ontiveros, all of the performances ring true. Rahaleh Nassri as the Iranian-American investigator projects an honest, enthusiastic naivety which convinces us that she is unaware that her attitude toward the police is rife with prejudice. Maconnia Chesser plays the mother with a forthrightness and dignity that tells us that the bad decisions that she has made and her prejudice are the result of the rough road that she has had to hoe as a member of two under classes. Mark Hairston as Officer Simmons projects the anguish of everyone who has had to make a difficult, untenable decision. His decision (blue over black) offers us a thought-provoking conundrum which author Case presents nonjudgmentally. Bob Senkewicz nicely modulates the role of Alex Stern, the amoral, opportunistic reporter who has so found that he can get by with self-deprecating honesty and a casual smile.

Scenic Designer Jessica Parks has designed an arresting all-purpose set whose walls are covered with newspaper articles reporting on the people and events relevant to the play. Patricia E. Doherty's costumes and Jill Nagle's lighting complete the seamless design work.

The Rant is a very complex and tightly written play. The events under investigation are tailored to demonstrate that various witnesses can see the same events differently, and that there can be innocent reasons for witnesses not being fully forthcoming. The play is also constructed as a mystery in which audiences are likely to make assumptions which will be upended as the play races rapidly to its climax.

Much of what passes for serious socio-political theatre today is simply old-fashioned agit-prop which massages and stokes the preconceived prejudices of its audience. Such plays often present their villains as cruel, evil, venal, bigoted and stupid hypocrites with poor social skills and hygiene. However, The Rant is a thought-provoking and engrossing play in which hot button social issues and the people caught up in them are portrayed fairly and honestly. Still, the play has a clear point of view and is infused with passion. With The Rant, author Andrew Case has brought a welcome breath of fresh air to American socio-political theatre.

The Rant continues performances (Evenings: Thursdays-Saturdays 8 p.m. / Sundays 7 PM; Matinees: Saturdays 3 p.m./ Sundays 2 p.m.) through September 20, 2009 at the New Jersey Repertory Company, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, NJ 07740. Box Office: 732-229-3166; online:

The Rant by Andrew Case; directed by Jesse Ontiveros

Denise Reeves………………Maconnia Chesser
Lila Mahnaz………………………Rahaleh Nassri
Alexander Stern…………………Bob Senkewicz
Charles Simmons…………………Mark Hairston

Photo: SuzAnne Barabas

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