GoKash OnSTAGE, local playwright/director/actor Kash Goins's producing company, launches a season-long residency at the Arden Theatre with his new drama, Seventy IV Seconds . . . to Judgement.
A six-person jury deliberates a "ripped from the headlines" shooting that resembles the Trayvon Martin killing. Was this shooting — of a black person by a white person — justifiable homicide, or murder? The legal circumstances for a not-guilty verdict, helpfully printed in the program, are a serious consideration.
The jurors, however, are deadlocked. After 10 days, they're comfortably hostile with each other, no longer strangers but hardly friends. A fight breaks out and the judge, in voiceover, reminds them that violence is unacceptable.
Young Brandon (Travoye Joyner) suggests a technique from his college acting class: role-playing the case's primary figures to understand their motivations. Most of the jurors balk at first, especially impatient businessman Bill (Goins), who tangles with Brandon early and often, but with support from harried mom Kim (Emily Davis), they eventually try it. This allows us to learn the event's circumstances without the play reciting them. However, the jury seems too conveniently chosen to play the roles. Brandon embodies the teenager at the situation's center, Ramona (Erin Stewart) becomes his mother, Doug (Steve Connor) embraces the role of his antagonistic teacher, Pat (Aaron Roberge) becomes the shooter, and so on. All the characters role-play people like themselves in race, age, and temperament, so we really feel the playwright shaping events.
More effective in Goins's 90-minute script are the many times the jurors talk over each other with realistic intensity, and the moments of organic humor that evolve from their sequestration. Director Amina Robinson keeps the action moving in Dustin Pettigrew's claustrophobic jury room, with its yellowing institutional walls. On either side hang portraits of Presidents Obama and Trump, the yin and yang of our country's current race discussion.
While Robinson's director's note insists that "Seventy IV Seconds . . . to Judgement is not a 'race' play," race is a central factor both in the case being deliberated and the jurors' treatment of each other. Three jurors are white, three black. The n-word is sometimes used and is discussed at length. Brandon, who's black, incites his fight with Bill, also black, in part by saying, "I hate n**gas who want to be crackers."
Goins's play impressively doesn't spin its wheels on the race topic, but rather forces past it to forge empathy between these six strangers. After exploring the many circumstances surrounding the shooting, they dissect a grainy video of the 74-second encounter (hence the play's awkward title), which reveals a fascinating surprise twist. Goins closes the play with the judge's poll of the jury. The verdict, just like those in real life, will not satisfy everyone but should inspire debates as exciting as those in Seventy IV Seconds . . . to Judgement.
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