The production offers a fine cast doing splendid work -- so splendid, in fact, that only after you leave the theater do you question some of Jackson's choices in his carefully crafted study of responsibility and redemption.
The production is directed by
Just as "Broke-ology" defied expectations by making the family dysfunction-free, here Jackson exhibits a similar sort of sleight-of-hand by introducing familiar prison-drama conventions only to do something surprising with them.
Jackson's play reflects on the philosophical and spiritual questions that would naturally result from the extraordinary "what if" premise: What would the aftershocks be if a prisoner on death row survived a lethal injection?
The prisoner in question is
Occupying the next cell is
In an effort to make sense of his experience, Damon meets with Father
Meanwhile, Damon has become a cause cÉlÈbre outside the prison walls. At one point, he is visited by his younger sister, Chantel (
Damon's family, it seems, is always just out of reach. Beneath his bed are shoe boxes filled with letters, some that were returned unopened, some that were never sent. Sometimes he pulls one out and reads it aloud. We know Damon and Roach are killers, but it's tough not to feel sympathy for them. We are irresistibly drawn into the growing friendships between Damon and Father Adrian as well as Damon and Roach. Hovering over it all is an insistent question:
Cobbs is one of those actors who commands the stage even when he's still, even when he's silent. The performance seems to rumble up from somewhere deep inside. He can rage, he can intimidate, but he can just as easily disarm us with smarts and a sense of humor. Damon is a complicated character but Cobbs delivers a performance memorable for its clarity.
As Roach, McCarty is equally nuanced. His nervous, ferretlike energy makes it seem that Roach is on the verge of bursting out of his skin at any moment. Or that if he just keeps talking, his execution day will never come. One of the strengths of the play is the contrast between Roach's manic desperation and Damon's stolid resignation.
Cristaldi delivers a nicely realized performance as Father Adrian. The character's growing relationship with Damon is crystal clear. He never really talks about it, but we can see that the chaplain's conversations with Damon are raising some spiritual questions without easy answers. Mitchell, the only
The design work is excellent. The set by
The play concludes on a note that some viewers may find a bit too sentimental -- which is surprising in a piece that generally avoids pushing our emotional buttons in an obvious way. One could argue that Jackson should have dug deeper and wrestled with bigger questions than he those he ultimately settles for. But his attention to character detail is as good as it gets.
The end result is a riveting evening of theater. You won't get it out of your head.
(c)2014 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)
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