BWW Reviews: Justice Is Served: LETHAL INJECTION

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BWW Reviews: Justice Is Served: LETHAL INJECTIONYou’ve got to admit it, Americans love courtroom dramas.

From Matlock to L.A. LAW to Boston Legal, from Atticus Finch in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, to Judge Judy, we just love watching colorful, righteous, clever, crusading, oh-so-AMERICAN folks churn out some justice.

It’s a love that makes us forgive a number of things, some of which come to mind when taking in Michael Reimann’s trial drama, “Lethal Injection,” now at the Vagabond Players theater and part of this year’s Baltimore Playwrights Festival.

First thing to forgive: Stereotypes.

You’ve got the if-he-ain’t-crooked-he’s-close judge who, of course, is rotund (no such thing as a thin good ol’ boy) speaks in a southern drawl, wears a bolo tie, hates New Yorkers (i.e. the prosecuting attorney, Dan Fuller {Troy Hopper}) and says things like “I don’t know how they do things in the Big Apple, but here in TEXAS..”

Yes, the phrase, “…but here in TEXAS,” gets quite a workout.

You’ve also got the fish-out-of-water attorney (a stereotype played for comedy in films like MY COUSIN VINNY) who “has something to prove,” i.e. he had a big death penalty case, messed up, and an innocent person was killed (a story line that we've seen before, as in the film, AND JUSTICE FOR ALL).

You’ve got the other prosecuting attorney, Bryce Towland (Coreen Ayr Hamilton) an attractive former pageant queen (aren’t there ever unattractive women practicing law?) who wants to use her looks and Texas roots to take Dan Fuller’s job, but perhaps, is going to learn something important along the way. Like Jessica Rabbit, she’s not bad, she’s just drawn that way.

Second thing to forgive:  Preachiness.

The audience finds its self cast in the role of the jury in this trial involving two brothers accused of murder, Kyle (Steve Izant)  and Ty (Bruce Levy) Wellington, who are, of course, rich movers-and-shakers. They stand in contract to the deceased’s brother, working class auto mechanic Cain Lofton (Lyon Beckwith) who rages like Lo Ferrigno in the INCREDIBLE HULK. Sorry, sounds like we’re still talking stereotypes here.

Anyway, there’s a scene near the play’s end where, in spotlight, Fuller and his defense attorney counterpart, Robert Wiley (Tor Tonnessen) give their summations. There’s a little too much high-blown talk about “truth and justice and power,” particularly from Fuller; it’s nothing we haven’t seen before in an episode of Perry Mason. Playwright Reimann also uses the foil of a reporter looking for a story to allow Fuller to preach about why the death penalty may be viewed by some as a deterrent—it discourages vigilantism, gives law enforcement leverage against murderers who refuse to cooperate, discourages murderers in prison from killing their fellow cell mates (though I don’t think that one works very well).

Like many courtroom dramas, Lethal Injection is a didactic play, designed to teach us something…that  the law is the law, and is more powerful than the people who enforce it, who try to manipulate it with money or view it only as a political platform.

All that being said, is Lethal Injection entertaining? Is it worth your time and money?  

If you’re looking for Paul Newman in The Verdict, you’re going to be disappointed. But as I said noted earlier, our love for courtroom drama (especially melodrama—Law and Order and it’s bazillion spinoffs, anyone?) makes us forgive much. Like sex and pizza, even with it’s bad it’s still pretty good.

Thanks to strong performances by a talented ensemble cast, a quick pace, and some clever staging (such as when the audience is allowed a brief “flashback” to the moment of the victim’s murder), Lethal Injection holds your attention...and there’s that oh-so-American feeling of satisfaction when evil is exposed, honor is restored, and above all, justice is served.

Lethal Injection, directed by Larry Pinker, continues its run at The Vagabond Players theater at 806 S. Broadway in Fells Point, now through August 5th. For more information, call 410-563-9135, or visit www.vagabondplayers.org.

 

 

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Daniel Collins A communications professional for 25 years, Dan Collins was a theater critic for The Baltimore Examiner daily newspaper (2006-2009), covering plays throughout the Baltimore-Columbia area including Center Stage, The Everyman, The Fells Point Corner Theater, Mobtown Players, Vagabond Theater, Cockpit in Court, Spotlighters Theater, The Strand, Single Carrot Theater and others. Mr. Collins has been a reporter, features writer, editor and columnist since 1984, including stints with The Washington Times and the Times Publishing Group (later Patuxent Publishing and now part of The Baltimore Sun) in Baltimore. His freelance writing career has included his work for the Examiner as well as other publications including Baltimore Magazine.


 
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