Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Crime and Punishment in America
Also see Susan's review of The Illusionists
These plays provide a sort of yin-and-yang look at the U.S. (in-)justice system in two erasan issue that has returned to the spotlight because of the controversial cases of police conduct in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York. The theater has scheduled talkbacks following selected performances.
Cops, written and set in 1976 and directed sharply by Stephen Jarrett, brings the audience into a Chicago diner late on a rainy night. Two plainclothes cops, wisecracking Jack Rolf (Bruce Alan Rauscher) and more by-the-book Bob Barberson (Anthony van Eyck), eat breakfast foodTrena M. Weiss' set includes a working stoveand talk about nothing with a uniformed officer (Dan Alexander). The talk is profane, pointed, and insulting to women, gay men, African Americans, Hispanic people, and anyone else they consider beneath their respect.
Everything changes when a customer (Chaz D. Pando) pulls a gun and takes the diner's cook (Nello DeBlasio) hostage. Suddenly, the cops are all business, taking shelter behind upturned tables and attempting negotiations with the gunman even as wounded victims lie on the floor. It's great drama, cynical and propulsive, with the audience members serving as unwilling witnesses to the crime.
In contrast, William Saroyan's 1941 play Hello Out There is a gentle, yearning romance between an incarcerated man (Bru Ajueyitsi) and the jail's cook (Rachel Caywood) in a dusty Texas town. He's a gambler, down on his luck, who has been charged with rape, although he swears the allegation is false; she's tired, lonely, and takes him at his word. Director Ellen Dempsey brings out the lyricism in this sketch, which shows how romantic fantasy can allow even people imprisoned by life to escape their circumstancesif only for a brief time.
Weiss' set designs echo the extremes of the two plays, shifting from the hyper-detailed diner, with its grimy walls above the stove and scuff marks on the floor, to the dreamlike image of a jail cell seemingly floating in space. Peter Caress captures the same dichotomy in his lighting designinstitutional lighting gives way to beams of blue light casting shadows through the bars of the celland Marilyn Johnson's costumes dramatize their wearers, specifically Rauscher's casual, even sloppy appearance and van Eyck's natty suit over a dark turtleneck sweater.
American Century Theater