Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Crime and Punishment in America
American Century Theater

Also see Susan's review of The Illusionists

Anthony van Eyck, Dan Alexander
and Bruce Alan Rauscher

For its 20th and valedictory season, American Century Theater in Arlington, Virginia, is presenting new productions of plays it originally staged in past seasons. Its current production, with the rather schematic title Crime and Punishment in America, consists of two well-acted one-act plays the theater originally produced separately: Cops by Terry Curtis Fox and Hello Out There by William Saroyan.

These plays provide a sort of yin-and-yang look at the U.S. (in-)justice system in two eras—an 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 food—Trena M. Weiss' set includes a working stove—and 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 circumstances—if 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 design—institutional lighting gives way to beams of blue light casting shadows through the bars of the cell—and 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
Crime and Punishment in America
January 9th - 31st
By Terry Curtis Fox
Omelette Eater: Eileen M. Farrell
Mickey: Ann De Michele
George: Nello DeBlasio
Cabdriver: Rob Heckart
Jack Rolf: Bruce Alan Rauscher
Bob Barberson: Anthony van Eyck
Gene Czerwicki: Dan Alexander
Customer: Chaz D. Pando
Voice of Lt. Buchevski: Rob Heckart
Directed by Stephen Jarrett
Hello Out There
By William Saroyan
The Young Gambler: Bru Ajueyitsi
The Girl: Rachel Caywood
The Husband: Ric Andersen
Another Man: Bruce Alan Rauscher
The Wife: Madelyn Farris
Directed by Ellen Dempsey
Gunston Theatre II, 2700 S. Lang St.
Arlington, VA 22206
Ticket Information:

Photo: Johannes Markus

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