BWW Review: A Raw LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE Vividly Depicts a Stacked Justice System
LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE /written by Warren Doody/directed by Susan K. Berkompas/Edgemar Center for the Arts/thru November 5, 2016
In the American Coast Theatre Company's West Coast premiere of LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE, playwright Warren John Doody has brilliantly adapted Dr. Elizabeth Dermody Leonard's verbatim transcripts of interviewed, incarcerated women into a brutal, unrelenting look at our current justice system. Susan K. Berkompas directs her very talented and committed cast with the precision of a surgeon in a tightly-paced, illustrative narrative of what put these five women in prison. They each were found guilty of murdering their respective abusive husbands or boyfriends.
Before the three-person parole board, the main focal character of Helen receives grilling and interrogation more apt for a foreign terrorist bomber than for a mild-mannered grandmother rehabilitating herself in prison for the last 25 years. Vivian Vanderwerd totally inhabits her character of Helen, the object of years of spousal abuse. Vanderwerd easily exhibits Helen's frustrations, confusion, protective maternal love of her daughter Debby, and the always present fear of being physically beat up, as well as constantly demeaned. The parole board, led by Kellerman (unapologetically played by Brock Joseph as a total assh*le) attempt to decide if Vivian remains a danger to society and if she shows remorse in her murderous deed. Mark Piatelli has the unsavory task of performing the creepy, disgusting behaviors of the three abusers depicted. Piatelli also does quadruple duty as one of the parole board with Virginia Brown sturdy as the by-the-book Shaeffer, the third of the freedom-deciding parole board.
The stories of five women, bonded by a prison support group Convicted Women Against Violence, intertwine and overlap with their similarities of horrible treatments and the dissimilarities of their circumstances.
Lola Kelly gives her Sherie a cheery, ironic look at life. Her brave smiles while telling about the atrocities that fill her life beginning with her father raping her happen to be one of the very few expressions of hope in this dark, dark dramatic reality.
Amanda Zarr's Barbara has a positive, yet more realistic outlook than Sherie. Zarr makes her Barbara seem just as initially surprised as the audience when her high school sweetheart suddenly turns nasty - and physical.
Cyntia Moreno imbues her Grace with the hopelessness of a young mother of three with no options other than remaining with her volatile husband - that she loves deeply.
Maria Mayenzet emits much confidence (or is it acquiescence?) as Charlotte, the well-to-do woman of upbringing. Charlotte walked in on her husband raping their daughter.
The verdict on Helen's parole brings no surprise at the end of this riveting 90-minute eye-opener.
Paul Eggington's bare bones, grey and black set's so very appropriate for this stark tale; complemented by the disheartening sound effects of cell doors clanging shut, also of Eggington's design.
LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE definitely succeeds in making one re-evaluate the different, yet sameness of the definition of 'abuse.' Also, does finally standing up for yourself equate to pre-meditation?