Sunday, January 21, 2007

Sleep Deprivation Chamber (Cleveland Public Theatre)

Purposeful, but poorly written SLEEP DEPRIVATION CHAMBER at CPT

Racial profiling, using race as a primary determinant in the characterization of a person considered likely to commit a particular type of crime, is alive in the United States. Whether for traffic stops, following certain people in grocery or department stores, or checking and rechecking individuals in airports, the practice is carried on. It affects African Americans, Arabs and all others who those in-charge might consider to be of “questionable character.”

Adrienne and Adam Kennedy’s ‘SLEEP DEPRIVATION CHAMBER,’ now on stage at Cleveland Public Theatre, highlights an authentic case in which a Black college student (in real life, Adam Kennedy) is pulled over for having a non-functioning rear taillight on his car, and is beaten by the arresting officer. Eventually, after a period of excruciating experiences which affect not only the young man, but his entire family, the charges are dismissed by a judge after hearing the “facts” of the case.

While well-meaning, the Kennedy’s script is not well written. It is often redundant and adds much material that elongates the experience with little pay-off. The flash-forward and flash-back format causes confusion. This story would make an effective 15-minute one act, but should not have been crafted as a 90-minute presentation.

Besides the script problems, the production gets lost in the large Gordon Square Theatre. This is an intimate piece which would have been much more appropriate for CPT’s smaller Levin Theatre space.

Clevelanders will find themselves familiar with many of the play’s references. Local streets and comments about the Indians and Bob Feller pepper the dialogue. But after a while, even that loses its effect.

Director Caroline Jackson Smith does an acceptable job of staging. She uses all parts of the facility...the main stage and the overhanging loges for settings for the scenes. She has not, however, honed the skills of some of her actors. Some of the performances are excellent, others quite poor.

Lisa Langford is effective as the narrator and mother of Teddy Alexander, the young man accused of the “crime.” At times, however, she is difficult to hear in the vastness of the auditorium.

Daniel H. Taylor, is excellent as Teddy, the falsely accused son. He is very natural and is believable in his role development.

Stuart Hoffman is a cast highlight as the Caucasian officer who shows disdain and lacks remorse for his actions. Derek Koger portrays Teddy’s lawyer with accuracy.

On the other hand, Yolanda Wilson (lawyer) and Dolores Boda (the Assistant DA) lack meaning in their line presentations.

Capsule judgment: ‘SLEEP DEPRIVATION CHAMBER’ sends an important message regarding racial profiling. Unfortunately, the script is not well conceived, and the presentation not convincing, which leads to an overly long performance experience.