BWW Review: The Gamm Theatre's THE RANT is Powerful and Timely
THE RANT takes place in Brooklyn, NY, not too long ago--that's what the program says. It feels like it could have easily taken place within the past year, month or week. Denise Reeve's son, a black teenager, was shot to death by a police officer on her front porch while she and her husband ate Eskimo Pies inside. At least that's what the audience hears first. From there, the story devolves into different versions of what might be the truth from Ms. Reeves, police officer Charles Simmons, investigator Lila Mahnaz and journalist Alexander Stern. In the end, the story is so twisted and murky with events, intentions and agendas that the actual events become secondary to the perceived situation.
The play begins with the sound of gunshots, just like the story within the play. From there, we meet Denise Reeves played by Kym Gomes, and we hear the statement she made to the police the night her son was murdered. The play operates much like a police procedural, but with each character getting a soliloquy to give us a bit of background as to who they are and why they make the choices they do. Of course, what they tell us about themselves may be the best version--who they want to be, more than who they are, or more than they can be when under extreme stress.
The word truth is lobbed around quite a bit in this play, mainly by reporter Alexander Stern, played by Tony Estrella. People always want to know the truth, what really happened in a situation, but what's true is always colored by how you perceive it or what you want to be true. As a hardened journalist who as seen enough of the way the world works to have any illusions left, he strikes a perfect balance between being the charmer who just wants a good quote and the educator who wants to challenge you to examine your own biases.
This is a play that forces the audience to look at themselves and their own opinions and beliefs. When Tony Estrella as Alexander Stern tells the viewing audience that we are all bigots; the audience reacted physically and vocally. The viewers are brought into the play by the actors staring directly at us, and at one point, offering a snack. It's uncomfortable, and upsetting and incredibly well done. The inciting incident is rehashed and retold and spun over and over. The optimistic become hardened; the hopeful lose hope. It's not a happy play, but it's an important one.
Considering that many of us exist in a bubble where we primarily have to interact with people who hold the same views and beliefs, it's almost refreshing to be forced to confront your own knee-jerk reactions. Andrew Case's writing is incredibly intricate and well thought out, almost an Aristotelian argument in dramatic form, and it takes the audience on the same journey as well-intentioned investigator Lila Mahnaz.
In terms of performances, there are no weak links in this play. Kym Gomes is absolutely heartbreaking as Denise Reeves. Tony Estrella is fantastic as Alexander Stern. Nikki Massoud has the biggest arc in the play, and her journey feels so sincere and real that the audience can't help but put themselves in her shoes. Amos Hamrick plays officer Charles Simmons, who feels like a stock character in the beginning, but who really shines in the last moments of the play.
The sets and lighting are also worth noting. The stage itself is small and spare--just a desk, table and a few chairs. It seems almost miniature in the theatre the walls of which are covered floor to ceiling with mugshots, police interviews, partially redacted memos and other pieces of bureaucracy all printed out on 8.5 by 11 inch paper and stuck to the wall. The starkness of the black text on white paper makes the space feel like the cavernous inside of a government building, and the lighting becomes the only way the audience can orient itself.
THE RANT is a haunting gut punch of a production, but one that should be required viewing for all.
THE RANT runs through December 13th at the Sandra Feinstein Gamm Theatre, 172 Exchange St. Pawtucekt RI. Tickets available at gammtheatre.org or by calling 401-723-4266.