Watching O.J. Review - The Verdict that Shocked America

 

Playwright David McMillan has demonstrated perfect pitch in this play about ordinary Americans dealing with an extraordinary event in their lives - the trial of an American hero (to many) who is accused of a double murder. Add to this that the iconic black O.J. Simpson is the suspect and that the two victims are both white. As one character so aptly summarized the trial: “OJ killed the wrong wife...he should have murdered his first wife...she was black black, real black, so nobody would be so upset ...but he upped and killed his white blond blond wife; that’s what got people so upset.”  

 

 

This play is really not about O.J. personally or anyone on the “dream team.” It is about the effects that the trial and the verdict had on people in the community. The small stage, cleverly designed by Andy Broomell, is divided into halves. To the left is a local dry cleaner, “The Perfect Fit,” while to the right is an auto repair shop. In and out of the two businesses pass typical Caucasian, African American, and Asian participants engaging in the multiple dramas that cover many of the issues that are tangled up with race in America. The characters are well crafted, with storylines touching on biracial coupling, activism, hopes that a particular educational institution will make a difference, justice system inequalities, dreams of a better future, police bias, social class differences - in other words, those racial and social class issues which have plagued the U.S. since the Civil War. 

 

 

 

As all of these Angelenos hover around a television in the dry cleaner’s awaiting the verdict, quiet differences emerge in opinions and views of the trial and its outcome. As one African American woman opines, “That wouldn’t be just be a win for him; that’d be a win for all of us…for all the black men who’ve been railroaded by the system.” Finally, after 252 trial days and only three hours of jury deliberation, the verdict is reached and read - causing previously placid relationships between these average people to explode as their incendiary views take center stage. Most of the blacks feel vindicated by the unexpected verdict, one character remarking, “October 3rd, 1995: the day white America finally got a taste of what it’s like to be black…but don’t worry...you’ll be white again tomorrow.” Most of the whites are furious over the verdict, which they feel flies in the face of the evidence. Finally, a realist remarks, “The most important color in this case wasn’t black or white…it was green…O.J. got acquitted because he bought himself a fair trial…long as you got money, even a black man can buy justice.”

 

 

 

Small but moving tales run like threads through the main tapestry of this beautifully woven play: the Jewish proprietor of the dry cleaners who tries to block out the heroin-overdose death of his daughter; the interracial couple who want to establish a relationship but face the intractable opposition of parents on both sides; the loving mother who tries to match up her son with “a nice girl from church;” the hard-working woman who wants her son to get a good education while her older son languishes in jail; the gentle black woman who tries to keep the peace - until she no longer is able to do so after being offered a “Sophie’s choice.” Each person has his own story, and together they form a cross-section of life in America in 1995 - but this could as easily have been a cross-section of life in American today.    

 

 

 

The author outdid himself with both a keen eye for human behavior and an unfailing ear for dialog which can be tender, moving, amusing, and sometimes downright hilarious - but always true to life and feeling somehow familiar. This excellent script is brought to life by top caliber actors delivering extraordinary performances while working as a seamless unit to pull feelings and emotions from each other and from the audience. Costume design by Catherine Baumgardner contributes to the authenticity of this moment in history. Kudos to the producer Stephen Burleigh, director Keith Szarabajka, all of the uber-talented actors, and to the production team who made this play such a memorable experience. WATCHING O.J. is a must-see for all theatergoers who have ever heard of the O.J. trial (and who hasn’t?). It brings a fresh perspective to the events, and it forces the viewer to ask questions which may not have immediate answers.

 

 

 

WATCHING O.J. runs from October 3 through November 8, 2015. Shows are at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays. Post-show talkbacks are scheduled throughout the run, with special guests such as the lead attorney from the Cochran Law Firm. Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA is located in the Atwater Village Theatre complex, 3269 Casitas Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90039. Tickets are $19.95. For information and tickets call 818-858-0440 or go online at [email protected] .

 

 

 

 

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