Written by Korde Arrington Tuttle
Directed by Melissa Crespo
San Francisco Playhouse Sandbox Series
Senseless tragedy surrounds us daily, but rarely are we provided a glimpse into the lives and thoughts of the victim and perpetrator. Tuttle’s play, staged beautifully by director Melissa Crespo, follows two sets of people who’s lives will regretfully collide. Sam Jackson delivers a powerhouse performance as Janelle, a powerful, funny, black woman caught in a fateful, tragic event involving racism and sexism after a minor traffic stop.
We meet Janelle in her Chicago apartment, anxiously searching for her dream job. She’s visited by her long-distance boyfriend Kane (Rondrell McCormick) who would love nothing more than to make her his baby mamma and move back to Texas with her. Theirs is a beautiful love story, real and heartfelt. Simultaneously, we’re taken to the graveyard shift of a small police unit in Prairie View, Texas. Supervisor Trish (Gwen Loeb), lovelorn Elise (Amanda Farbstein) and inept, two-timing Brian (Max Carpenter).
We follow their dual situations; Janelle and Kane’s engagement, Janelle’s acceptance of her new job, their packing and relocation to Texas. Elise is pregnant by Brian but ready to move to Nashville to become a singer, Brian is on suspension for an unnamed transgression, Trish is the glue holding the department together. The staging by Crespo is excellent keeping the two stories independent yet connected by the set and sometimes combined dialogue.
We know that somehow the two stories will converge, and the play takes a little too long for that to occur. Its disturbing that we also can anticipate what horrible event might occur, so inundated with these stories we’ve become. Two black people in the deep south – it screams confrontation and indeed Janelle and Brian’s lives intersect in tragedy. Based on the true story of Sarah Bland, a 28-year-old African-American woman who was found hanged in a jail cell in Waller County, Texas, on July 13, 2015, three days after being arrested during a traffic stop, graveyard shift simply displays two divergent scenarios without drawing conclusions, allowing the viewer to take it in and make our own decisions.
Graveyard Shift continues through November 3rd, 2018 at Creativity Theater at the Children’s Creativity Museum, 221 Fourth Street, San Francisco. Tickets are available at www.sfplayhouse.org or by calling (415 677-9596).
Photos by Jessica Palopoli