Is he or is he not guilty? That is the question to be answered in Live Garra Theatre’s production of A Matter of Perspective, by C.G. Gardiner.
Eight jurors from diverse backgrounds (five African-Americans, one of island descent, and three Caucasians (one Jewish woman), come together to do their civic duty to decide the guilt or innocence of a young black man accused of assaulting a white police officer, resisting arrest, and attempting to drive away from the scene. It doesn’t help that the defendant was found with a female companion in an uncompromising position.
Although you never see the actual defendant and female companion, the eight jurors take the audience on a journey that is believable of an everyday jury room. The set design is simple, two long tables with chairs, coffee, water and and one window.
As the case is discussed, it is quite evident that the jurors bring their experiences, and passion to the table. And racial tensions will be at an all time high in the jury room. Juror No. 5, played by Eli El, believes the defendant is already persecuted, believing that being “black in America,” is being “guilty” in America. Since the “sweat, blood and tears.” of his ancestors formed this country, Juror No.5, “wants his reparations.” His account of being a young boy seeing his father harassed by white police officers as they sat in a restaurant continues to haunt him, and he has no problem stating his opinion of the innocence of the defendant strongly. El’s performance as Juror No.5 is wonderful. His angry-at-the-world stance is convincing.
One may instinctively think that a white person is going to automatically believe a black person is guilty. The stereotypical mantra that is put on young black men: baggy, sagging pants, dreadlocks is immediate guilt of the crime. However, Juror No.6, played by Suzanne Edgar, wants to only go on the facts of the case. What were the officers’ testament of the crime versus the defendant? Physical appearance plays no part in her decision-making. But, maybe past criminal behavior. She is rebutted in every way possible by Juror No. 5 (El) harshly, and Juror No.7 (Martrece Caudle), but she doesn’t sway. She stands firm in “the facts.” Edgar’s portrayal of Juror No. 6 is very convincing. She would be terrific on a debate team. What her character reveals in the play, leaves the other jurors in astonishment. Caudle’s re-enactment of the incident is very visual and powerful.
As with some juries, there may be one or two jurors who can make the process a little unbearable. Such is the case with Juror No. 4 (Todd Leatherbury). Leatherbury’s performance as an Irish, arrogant, christian, possibly confused about his sexuality is well brought out. Is he a racist? Not sure. He is that one juror you wonder how and why he was picked in the first place. His statements about African-Americans, are ones heard all the time when in any discussion about race in America. “Slavery has ended, get over it! Study and work hard! Stop blaming others for your troubles.”
He definitely gets under the skin of Juror No. 3, played by IO Browne. She makes no secret of her disdain for Juror No. 4, and the fact that he may indeed be gay. They encounter verbal altercation throughout the play. I Her statement, “Being gay is one thing, but being racist and gay is too much for this Baptist girl,” added light humor to a tense environment. Her story of how police interact with black people in her neighborhood on a daily basis is all too familiar. It is sad, yet moving at the same time.
The discussion between the jurors continue, rounding out the cast with Dolly Turner (Juror No.1 and the Foreman), Hillary Mazur (Juror No.2), and Faith Nelson, (Juror No.8, an island woman). Turner gives a moving monologue about her uncle being lynched in the South, for having the courage to challenge a white sheriff, who stole from him. She is a calming presence in the midst of the heated discussion between the jurors. Juror No.2 (Mazur) is reminded by Juror No. 5 (El) that she is seen as a white woman although she is Jewish. Juror 8 (Nelson), just wants peace among the jurors, the world, her son.
What is the jury’s verdict? You will have to come and see.
The post-performance discussion with the cast after was interactive, informative, and timely. Some of the suggestions from the audience were: eliminating some repetitiveness, and that it wasn’t necessary to give the jurors names, as we, the audience, barely heard the actors referred by their names.
A Matter of Perspective is filled with great performances, and is worth a visit.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.
A Matter of Perspective plays through October 16, 2016, at Live Garra Theatre performing at Silver Spring Black Box Theatre – 8641 Colesville Road, in Silver Spring, MD. For tickets, purchase them at the door, or online.