Who decides who lives or dies, and how is that just? These are the questions playwright Kash Goins implores audiences to think about in his new play SEVENTY IV SECONDS… to judgment at the Arden Theatre Company.
Goins’ work is the most recent installment in a series of plays dealing with the topic of justice in our society. He is a Philadelphia native who established his company GoKash OnSTAGE in 2008 to produce works that focus on the African American experience, tackling both his own plays and classics. SEVENTY IV SECONDS… to judgment starts off the company’s new residency at the Arden where they will continue to explore these stories.
The play follows six jurors a few weeks into a case deciding whether a homicide was justifiable or second degree murder. With the jury frustrated and gridlocked, the youngest voice in the room decides the group should try a new tactic. As he probes the group into attempting to reenact the day of the crime, the characters and the audience are taken on a shocking emotional rollercoaster to discover the truth.
At the center of this story is the youngest juror, Brandon, played by Travoye Joyner. Joyner’s energy is delightfully infectious as he leaps about the stage, enrapturing the audience with his youthful joy and commitment. He also impresses in his more somber moments, particularly in a schoolroom scene so tense it made my stomach hurt. Playing opposite Joyner in that scene is Steve Connor as Doug, an aging police officer with views quite the opposite from Brandon’s. (While having a police officer on a jury creates a lot of tension, it’s highly unlikely in real life, and the script does address this.) Connor plays the complexities of his character masterfully, bringing out the likable side of a generally unlikable character, while also delivering gasp-worthy monologues. The other partial antagonist of the story is Bill, a well-off businessman played by playwright Kash Goins. Goins, much like Connor, does an excellent job of playing his character as utterly human. He delivers powerful speeches with skill and bravado, never allowing his character to be dismissed.
Another show-stopping speech comes from Aaron Roberge as the level-headed Pat. Roberge portrays his character placidly for most of the show, and his sudden outburst is startlingly dynamic. Erin Stewart plays Ramona, another voice of reason. Her stick-to-her-guns attitude and motherly influence over Brandon is endearing. Rounding out the jury is Emily Davis as Kim. Her saccharine-sweet portrayal of the ditsy mother provides a nice comic respite from the intensity of the room.
Director Amina Robinson’s staging of the show is exquisite, creating perfect stage pictures, impressive chemistry between the actors, and intense, compelling moments. Dustin Pettegrew’s set design creates an almost claustrophobic atmosphere; the cramped size of the jury room and the eyes of both Barack Obama and Donald Trump’s portraits looming over the room in a halo of light create an edgy environment.
Those lights were designed by Andrew Montemayor, who did a wonderful job transporting the viewer in and out of reality through thoughtful moments. The sound design by Lyell Hintz also aids in these moments, from soft rumbles to an eerie judge’s voice that made me squirm in my seat as if I too was getting scolded. Finally, Corrina Brabham’s realistic costumes help define the characters, from Bill’s snazzy suit to Brandon’s slouchy backpack.
Goins and his company should be incredibly proud of the visceral, well-crafted story they put on stage. If you are looking for a night at the theater that will make you laugh, cry, and think all the way home, I highly recommend GoKash OnSTAGE’s production of SEVENTY IV SECONDS… to judgment.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.
SEVENTY IV SECONDS… to judgment plays through September 24th, 2017 at GoKash OnSTAGE in residence at the Arden on the Arcadia Stage, at 40 N. 2nd Street, in Philadelphia, PA. Tickets are $35 and available at the door or online.