There are two sides to every story and now, in these challenging times, we can’t always jump to conclusions without knowing all the facts. This premise is dramatically portrayed in the play Villain, An American Story, produced by From the Gut Creations in conjunction with the Hollywood Fringe Festival at the Stephanie Feury Theatre. It was directed by Bernadette Speakes and written by Michael James Kelly and Kailena Mai, who both perform in the play.
Long Beach Police Officer William P. Thompson (Frederick Koehler) accidentally shoots Devon Clark, an innocent black 16-year-old teenager thinking he had a gun that turned out to be a cell phone. An angry crowd forms making matters worse. The family of the young man is devastated, as can be expected, but the officer and his family are also shattered.
The play opens with Thompson’s wife (Kailena Mai) and his mother Evelyn (Shaw Purnell) tensely waiting for him to come home from the police station. Thompson finally arrives with his father Bill, (Richard Warren) a former cop, who tries to convince him he did the right thing in light of the circumstances and has a plan for him to respond to interrogation. Thompson is devastated and has tremendous guilt for the shooting but is also torn because he felt threatened and followed protocol.
His wife becomes convinced that Thompson should follow the advice of his father, who experienced a similar incident in the past. She is concerned that their family and, especially, their 2 small children, will suffer the consequences of his actions.
The story goes back and forth between the two families. Devon Clark’s brother Andre (Michael James Kelly) is angry that he was not able to be there to protect Devon. Their mother Berty, (Sonia Jackson) whose husband was killed several years before, tries to remain strong but breaks down in disbelief that her baby is gone. Uncle Ray (Monty Montgomery) the young men’s surrogate father shows a stoic acceptance of the situation knowing this is the way it is and has always been.
Devon’s white girlfriend, (Azizi Donnelly), has difficulty understanding the ramifications of the community’s reaction. Grief-stricken, she joins Andre in a protest which terrifies Berty, who fears the possible loss of both of her sons.
We also get a glimpse of the public perception of the crime through two opposing commentators (Taissa Zveiter and John Thomas). One is a white right-leaning conservative while the other is a black activist. Both expound their rigid opinions to the media without measuring all the nuances of the case.
To live righteously, must we create a villain?
Don’t outrightly judge a situation without learning the backstory. 99% of cops are caring and honorable. 99% of people of color are the same. It’s the 1-2% who are not.
The production of Villain – An American Story
It’s not always easy to work on a tiny upstairs stage, which is typical of Equity Waiver theater productions, but the actors make the best use of it interspersing scenes and occasionally moving set pieces to accommodate the action. All are professional and compelling. Fringe plays often tackle subjects not usually dealt with on main stages and are well worth watching as this one was.
Villain – An American Story is a short 90-minute play that runs through June 24, 2018. Click here for tickets