Monday, October 5, 2015

Twenty Years Gone By.. WATCHING O.J. at EST/LA : AVT

Notwithstanding the guy who stepped full on my foot and throughout Act II of WATCHING O.J. A WORLD PREMIERE by David McMillan, sat behind me and crinkled his Skittles bag and peanut butter cup wrapper in my ear, the play bubbles to the surface a joke (from 1995 when the play takes place) about how long it may take to get a black President, and then turns mostly on rehashing the Trial of OJ Simpson and a discussion prejudice.  

 It is not a bad play. Director Keith Szarabajka guides with an even hand this strong polemic that centers on the verdict of the murder trial in 1995.  It employs stereotypes and our still racist feelings about crossing the ‘color line’ which in 1995 was very slowly beginning to fade, but was still very much in play. These twenty years since the verdict, which sent cheers through the African American community, the issue still resonates.  

Oz (Robert Gossett, who seemed to struggle with lines from time to time) is the black neighbor of Harold (Tony Pasqualni)) who runs a local cleaning establishment. He sums the situation up in a way that white people might understand.  The not guilty verdict brings harsh words and broken friendships.  Oz tells Harold that this might be his opportunity to feel what it’s like to be a black man: To have the verdict reflect what the Black Community finally needed to hear: that ‘justice’ is relative.  “Tomorrow you can be white again, Harold.”

We are all prejudiced.  We pre-judge for many reasons.  Making an informed decision  may turn on how awake we are. We are preprogrammed to decide if we are in danger and just as in  Rodgers and  Hammerstein’s lyrics from South Pacific, “We have to be carefully taught to hate and fear.

Harold’s daughter has died of a drug over dose on this date in the distant past and it weighs on him.  Guilt and angst elicit strong feelings in addition to his outrage that O.J. is now a free man. His assistant, Cordelia (excellent Angela Bullock) is kind and thoughtful. She is anxious for her son, Jamal (Kareem Ferguson), a mechanic who works for Oz, to find a girlfriend after his recent break up with Allison (Tarah Pollock), a doctor in training from Brentwood.  Jamal aspires to ‘make a difference’ and plans to attend the upcoming Million Man March organized by Louis Farrakhan the following week.  (Farrakhan has announced a twentieth anniversary of that day for October 10, 2015.)

Feisty Lisa Renee Pitts as Kim speaks of corruption and the culture of oppression that has put minorities on the defensive:  a stance that continues to this day in 2015.  Though some may think society has become ‘color blind’, we have miles to go.  Perhaps the polemic of how we still drag our feet on the slow walk to freedom and equality could be served by an attempt at a solution. Of course, answers are never obvious but the reuniting of Jamal and Allison subtly points a way.  Allison's short term boyfriend, Derek (Roy Vongtama) relating the looting of his Korean parents’ store during the Rodney King riots in 1992 and how they rebuilt in an attempt to elevate the South Central community is touching. Sheila (Kelly Wolf), the wife of a Los Angeles policeman whose son aspires to follow in his father’s footsteps, brings her perspective. Heavy duty fireworks ignite as Sheila and Kim go toe to toe regarding the verdict. Was every black person watching the announcement of the Not Guilty verdict elated?  Was Justice served?   Was it?

Does it really matter to replay the day of the verdict? Should we slip slide twenty years into a past that still leaves Ron and Nicole lying in their lakes of blood? Perhaps it does, and  as much as anything may recommend Watching O.J. There are decent performances and insights. Still that will not erase this ragged scar upon the judicial system.

Watching O.J.  by David McMillan
Atwater Village Theatre Complex
3269 Casitas Ave. LA, CA 90039
8pm Fridays and Saturdays, 2pm Sundays
Through November 8, 2015.
Tickets and information:

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