BWW Review: 0BJECTIVELY/REASONABLE (A Community Response to the Shooting of Tamir Rice, 11/22/14)

BWW Review: 0BJECTIVELY/REASONABLE (A Community Response to the Shooting of Tamir Rice, 11/22/14)

Objectively/Reasonable (A Community response to the Shooting of Tamir Rice) is an emotional rollercoaster

Roy Berko

(Cleveland Critics Circle, American Theatre Critics Association)

On November 22, 2014, twelve-year-old Tamir Rice was shot at close range by police officer Timothy Loehmann outside the Cudell Recreation Center on Cleveland's near west side. Tamir died the next day.

Soon after the incident, "a surveillance video was released which captured the officers drive-up, as well as footage of Tamir's replica pistol (missing its orange toy-distinguishing cap) which generated the original 911 call." The grand jury declined to indict the officers on criminal charges. In "April 2016, the city of Cleveland signed a $6 million settlement with the estate of Tamir Rice admitting no wrongdoing."

Rice joined an ever-growing list of black tweens, teens and men who died at the hands of police officers.

In describing the case, County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty used the phrase "objectively reasonable" to describe the officers' actions.

Playwrights Local, the area's newest theatrical group, is presenting the world premiere of Objectively/Reasonable (A Community Response to the Shooting of Tamir Rice, 11/22/14), a script and performance conceived by the theatre.

The authors of the script interviewed Cudell residents, legal experts, teachers, activists and mothers for their reactions to and thoughts about what happened.

Playwrights Mike Geither, Tom Hayes, Lisa Langford, Michael Oatman and David Todd did the interviews to reflect the community's responses, thus giving a voice to the "silent people." They wrote the segments for the script, mostly monologues. Todd, as the dramaturge, wove the drama together and the play's director, Terrence Spivey, bridged the pieces with staging devices, including singing, dancing, electronic media and verbal and nonverbal sounds and actions.

The play created an emotional rollercoaster. Mind-boggling "what ifs," "why did that happen," "why was . . .," and "if only . . .," thoughts and feelings resulted.

What if the police had stopped when they arrived, not shot within several seconds and tried to talk to the boy? What would have happened if the 911 operator's words had been clearly conveyed? (The original caller had indicated the gun was "probably fake.")

If only the police had been trained in how to do non-confrontational actions, or the negative climate of young black male versus police wasn't the community norm.

If only Loehmann's past record had been carefully considered before he was hired by the Cleveland Police. It was reported that "he was rejected for a deputy Sheriff job in 2013, and was unsuccessful in getting jobs with the police departments in Akron, Euclid, and Parma Heights. He resigned in 2012 from the Independence police department, after only a short time in the department, following a poor performance review."

In this era of high stress, why was a twelve-year-old even playing with a toy gun?

The cast (Ashley Aquilla, Kaila Benford, India Burton, Samone Cummings, Ananias Dixon, Kali Hatten, Jameka Terri, LaShawn Little, Brenton Lyles and Nathan Tolliver) each portrayed numerous characters with clarity of purpose.

A special spotlight must be focused on Ashley Aquila for her emotionally evident, but well controlled monologue of the words of Samaria Rice. Tears flowing, she slowly textured Samaria's words.

(Little did most of the audience know that Mrs. Rice was in attendance. Following the show, during the talk-back, the well spoken woman indicated that she would be calling upon members of the cast to perform their words as part of her efforts to insure Tamir's legacy.)

Though a little long, especially with an audience sitting on hard church benches, the script holds the attention with sensitive, curious, straight forward, probing, and highly emotional speeches.

Though repetition led to some redundancy, much of the material works. If further productions are to be done, based on this presentation, the authors might want to consider some tightening of monologues and cutting of some speeches and the adjustment of the ending so that the audience is aware when the play is over.

The use of pictures and video to supplement the story helps add texture to the speeches. When action was not presented on the screen, a picture of the Cudell cupola hung over the action as a sad reminder of the site of the horror.

The talkback which followed the presentation, moderated by former county commissioner Peter Lawson Jones, brought out a series of provocative points including that the police culture needs to be changed, a return to neighborhood policing needs to be undertaken, the probes as to whether Tamir would have been shot if he was white and if white members of the audience would like to go through life as an African American male. Cleveland's segregation pattern: east-black, west-white, much like cities in the South, the drive-by shootings and murders, and the low quality of schools, were also topics discussed.

Capsule judgment: It is the purpose of the Playwrights Local to produce works of North Eastern Ohio writers. If their future efforts produce anything like this painful to watch but well conceived play, their purpose will be well confirmed. This is a must see experience for anyone interested in the real world around them, especially if they are not part of the African American community.

Playwrights Local 4181's next production will be The 2 nd Annual Cleveland Playwrights Festival to be staged in November. For information go to: http://playwrightslocal.org/

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From This Author Roy Berko

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