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BWW Reviews: CRIME AND PUNISHMENT IN AMERICA is Relevant and Thoughtful

"Cops," Photo by Johannes Markus.

The people of the United States are living in a shadow of increasing attention to police accountability and racial tension. With citizens questioning police power across the country, The American Century Theater (TACT) conveyed their mission of contributing to cultural dialogue with their theatrical double feature.

Crime and Punishment in America is an affair of two one-act plays: Cops by Terry Curtis Fox and Hello Out There by William Saroyan. They are two very different plays, smartly juxtaposed, that have potential to create fascinating conversation.

Cops deals with three Chicago police officers. One moment they are enjoying a 2:00 a.m. schmooze at a local diner; that instantly turns into a hostage situation. Hello Out There is set in a small jail cell in Matador, Texas. The perpetrator may have been unjustly accused.

Admittedly, neither script is phenomenal. Cops represents a portrayal of police that is a bit too stereotypical, while the central plot of Hello Out There is a little too romantic for my taste. But these are not reasons to ignore these shows. TACT brings excellent direction to both.

Director, Stephen Jarrett, staged Cops with fluidity. Stylistically, the set and costumes were spot on. Jarrett guided the actors in a use of space that kept interest and moved the show along. Actors Bruce Alan Rauscher, Anthony van Eyck, and Dan Alexander do great work portraying cops that you do not sympathize with. However, they are vulnerable. These actors allow the audience to explore why the officers made the decisions they made during the shooting.

Hello Out There, directed by Ellen Dempsey, had a cool set that established the lonesome tone of the play. It was simply a jail cell. The actors, Bru Ajueyitsi and Rachel Caywood, were forced to deal with the challenge of interacting with one another behind bars and succeeded. Moreover, they connected well with their characters and each other.

Because TACT uses a black box stage, both shows were provided with the intimacy that they need to keep audience attention. This intimacy creates a much needed pressure. Without it, the show could easily feel distant.

Crime and Punishment in America reminds us to consider all sides of every news story. While it is important to question the excessive use of force by police; it is also important to remember police are human and respond as such. Furthermore, it reminds us to be wary of unnecessary arrests and the rights of defendants.

TACT did an outstanding job of creating thought-provoking theater, by creating a stage where actors lead with conviction and audiences leave with perspective.

Running time: 1 hour and 52 minutes with a 15 minute intermission.

"Crime and Punishment in America" plays at The Gunston Arts Center, Theatre II
2700 South Lang Street, Arlington, VA - through January 31, 2015. For tickets, call 703.998.4555 or purchase them online.

From This Author - Hannah Menchhoff