Theater Tech: Cops and Robbers Delivers the Goods
By Kris Neely
These commentaries are primarily focused on the production, direction, and technical aspects of theater and performing arts.
Cops and Robbers is an important piece of theater. As presented at The Marsh in Berkeley, CA, it is also raw, honest, and powerful, demanding more than just passive viewing. This is theater that challenges the audience, regardless of ethnicity, to honestly assess their perceptions—and assumptions—on race in America.
In Cops and Robbers, Mr. Jinho Ferreira plays 17 wildly different roles including a self-centered news reporter, a black activist, an amazingly comic white conservative talk show host, a judge, and a hyped-up police department sergeant. The plot of this 90-minute, one-man theater piece turns on the now all-too-familiar topic of an officer-involved shooting, with the host of characters morphing in and out of the show to tell the story from each person’s perspective, a modern twist on Kurasawa’s classic Rashomon.
This reviewer left The Marsh not just liking, not merely appreciating, but actively respecting Mr. Ferreira and his work as a playwright and as an actor.
Each character in Cops and Robbers is the personification of an ethical viewpoint the playwright encountered growing up in West Oakland, CA. Mr. Ferreira’s insightful writing and bravura performance, goes where few American theater productions go by asking the audience a single, powerful, pervasive question: what will you do with your new knowledge, awareness, and insider view of topics many of us prefer to hear about in sanitized sound bites—if we want to hear about them at all.
This play takes on difficult topics—black-on-black crime, police officers’ use of force, American politics, the power of social media—and shows the audience how the people in these societal factions often do not speak the same language, value the same things, or make much of an effort to understand one another. Mr. Ferreira is trying to drill down to the essence—not the stereotypes or popular perceptions—of those who live on these cultural islands, which are informed by ideology, pride, power (real and imagined), tradition, money, influence, and pain.
If you like theater that supplies pat answers, this is not your show. If you like theater that asks you to think, that asks you to examine your perceptions, that urges and inspires you to act and be part of the solution then this is your show.
Cops and Robbers is that rarest of experiences: essential and important theater.
The set for this show is a black stage and black curtain backdrop, and the lone prop a hard-backed chair positioned center stage right. The program begins with an opening montage of video clips.
The content of this script and the acting combined with effective sound effects, conveyed what a more over-thought set design would have obscured. That said, I’m giving this design a 7 out of 10 because it didn’t try to do more. (Score: 7/10)
To the Stage Manager’s credit, the action behind the scenes was mostly smooth. A bit less time in blackout would have been better. Sound cues were on their mark. (8/10)
Watch out for Mr. Ferreira’s microphone; it was over-driven, causing distortion at a couple points. Sound effects were very well chosen—unobtrusive and well delivered—supporting the action. (7.5/10)
In a one-person show with a blank stage, a wooden chair, sound effects, and one actor, the props department gets a well-deserved bye. N/A.
Mr. Ferreira’s costume was a basic black T-shirt and black, military-style cargo pants with black police boots. The simplicity of the costume worked well as the principal actor morphed from character to character. Again, not over-thinking these choices aided and supported the production. (7/10)
Tightly directed for the most part. Pacing was good, a demanding task in a one-person show which makes the kinds of physical demands on an actor that this play does. A couple character transitions showed flashes of questionable acting choices. (7/10)
The lights were uneven. On more than one occasion Mr. Ferreira was performing between lights in a dim zone. There was no indication that this was required by the script. This is not good anytime but especially for a one person show. (4/10)
N/A as the playwright is the principal actor.
A little more attention to sound management and light placement would add value. The video montage at the top of the program could be cut tighter to build towards the play opening rather than feeling a bit like a bolted-on attraction. A tiny bit of polish on the direction/acting choices in a couple character changes would add even more luster. (8/10)
This is an important piece of theater that is effectively rendered. People talk about how this-or-that theater production made them think. This program does that very, very well. Go see this show, and bring every friend and neighbor you can find. (8.5/10)
Overall Theater Tech Score: (57/80) Good work.
Cops and Robbers
Directed by Ami Zins and Lew Levinson.
Written by Jinho “The Piper” Ferreira. A graduate of San Francisco State University, Ferreira, who describes himself as a self-taught actor and playwright, is also a musician, singer, father of three, and Alameda County Sherriff’s Deputy.
Mature content: appropriate for ages 15+.
Runs SATURDAY AFTERNOONS ONLY at 5:00 p.m. through October 3, 2015; dark on 9/19/15.
The Marsh Theater, 2120 Allston Way, Berkeley, CA
Tickets available online at www.themarsh.org or by phone at 415.282.3055 1:00-4:00 p.m. Mon-Fri
Run time: 90 minutes with one intermission.
Kris Neely is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theater Critics’ Circle and an award-winning stage director. In 2013 Neely earned an SFBATCC Best Director award for ‘Lend Me a Tenor’ (Ross Valley Players) and his direction of ‘Leading Ladies’ for Novato Theater Company was listed as one of the 10 Best Plays of 2014 in the North Bay by the Marin Independent Journal newspaper. He was also nominated for a 2013 Outstanding Production Shellie Award for directing ‘A Case of Libel’ for the Pittsburg Community Theater.
Mr. Neely’s blogs on theater and performing arts are found online at For All Events (www.forallevents.com), Marin Onstage (http://backstage.marinonstage.org), and OnStage (www.onstageblog.com).
Mr. Neely drinks Tejava