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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
In it, four people — a citizen, a prosecutor, a policeman and a journalist — become entangled in a web of circumstantial and incomplete evidence in which the truth is suddenly relative, bias becomes a motivating force and guilt or innocence almost achieves irrelevance. As the play is primarily motored by the delivery of testimony and the delivering of information, it is incumbent upon the actors to make the dramatic sparks fly. Under the taut direction of Jesse Ontiveros they do.
Case, who spent seven years aside from his playwriting working as an investigator for the Civilian Complaint Review Board in New York City, dives into the muddy waters of truth-telling and the questionable reliability of witnesses, the police, the press and the prosecutors.
An unarmed black autistic teenager is shot and killed by a policeman while on the front porch of his Brooklyn, New York home. His mother Denise Reeves (MaConnia Chesser) provides a detailed account of the incident to Lila Mahnaz (Rahaleh Nassri), a city prosecutor. Based on the facts as presented to her, Mahnaz sees the shooting as a means to validate her long-standing, deep-seated assumptions about the NYPD and what she perceives as its fellowship of cover-up. Her attempt to ally herself with a tabloid journalist Alexander Stern (Bob Senkewicz) becomes as confounding in its convolutions as is her frustrating attempt to get the young African-American policeman Charles Simmons (Mark Hairston) to admit that his actions may not have been justified.
Reeves's rage toward the policemen who patrol the neighborhood is pronounced and unwavering. But why has she left out some pertinent background information? And how relevant was that 911 call that she made minutes before the shooting? Mahnaz's disgust with the corruption in the Police department is barely contained. She's on a vendetta. What consequences will there be to her almost reckless and flawed pursuit for truth that has put her own life in danger? Stern's dissemination of the facts is predictably self-serving. Are ethics something he has no use for when it comes to blowing the prosecutor's cover? Simmons is adamant about his arguably defensive actions during the incident. Are his climactic revelations the shock that we expected?
The truth is as malleable and adaptable as are the inevitable and incontrovertible biases that surface from each of these characters, often expressed in long expository speeches. "Truth is a kind of bias," admits Mahnaz, who, when asked if she is an American responds, "I'm a Persian." Nassri gives a plausible account of a head-strong prosecutor whose own racial biases make her vulnerable to major errors in judgment. Chesser is excellent as the mother with a resolve for retribution. Senkewicz's stringent performance as the glib, callously cynical journalist is right on the money.
Hairston, who is making a formidable debut at the NJ Rep., inevitably makes Officer Simmons the most emotionally engaging as well as the play's most conflicted character: one who not only has a completely different version of the story told by Reeves. His commitment and loyalty to the police force is consistently being put to the test in a dangerous and predominantly African-American neighborhood. Jessica Parks's scenic design, that includes some projections of various locations in New York, consists of a few chairs and tables and flats posted with blow-up of news stories about the killing are simple and effective.
Under close scrutiny, perceptive audiences are likely going to uncover holes and discrepancies in the plot as well as in the way most professionals might more normally follow protocol and procedure. Not being bored for a moment, however, allows for the few lapses in credibility. Except for its lack of irony, some may also see in The Rant a similarity to the film Rashomon, in which various people offer differing accounts of a rape.
The National New Play Network World Premiere of The Rant was produced through the NNPN Continued Life Fund by New Theater (Miami, Fl.; InterAct (Phila. PA); and New Jersey Repertory Company (Long Branch, NJ).
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