AS WE FORGIVE THEM
by Richard Vergette.
Arcola Theatre (Arcola 2) 24 Ashwin Street E8 3DL To 19 February 2011.
Runs 1hr 20min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7503 1646.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 27 January.
No remission in prison relationship that delivers late surprises.
There’s a natural attraction when two characters, initially at odds, occupy the stage. Somehow they’ll come closer together (when they start off close, the opposite tends to happen). But not here.
Serial criminal Lee Fenton and Congressman John Daniels could hardly be further apart as Richard Vergette’s drama opens. Lawbreaker and lawmaker, Fenton’s crimes include murdering Daniels’ daughter. But the politician has pulled him from Death Row, undertaking to educate the illiterate.
Good liberal stuff for a play opening in the wake of Barack Obama’s election victory. As both subsequent scenes jump-cut the process by a four-year presidential term, the future bites back; for Vergette, whose play premiered in Manchester’s annual, and invaluable, 24:7 Festival in 2009, projects eight years of unprecedented Obama popularity, with not so much as a sip of a Tea Party in sight.
Though never less than edgy, the two men’s meetings become less aggressive on Fenton’s part. At first, Joe Sims’ towering figure looks ready to consume the comparatively diminutive figure of Michael Anthony Brown’s congressman. He’s aware of the danger, leaping to the panic button under threat, before ensuring compliance through offers of junk food and smuggled-in chocolate bars.
Sims’ slouchingly contemptuous figure changes over the years, the jaw no longer reaching for the floor, but the dramatic kick comes from Daniels. Late plot developments are hard to bring off when the focus has been on how characters operate together, and there’s an uneasy shift as the emphasis switches.
Yet the revelations fit Brown’s grizzled formality and his hints of detachment, while exposing the uneasiness of personal motive in the political liberal. And, when he learns the gift of literacy is meant as a curse, Fenton knows how to strike back at Daniels’ mind.
For all it tests plausibility, Vergette’s play holds the attention, certainly in Andrew Pearson’s well-acted, sparely-staged production – the transfer from Daniels to Fenton writing the date for the last scene makes its own point, as does the larger, more deliberate handwriting. In all, a prison drama with its own angle, that doesn’t seem a long sentence for its audience.
Lee Fenton: Joe Sims.
John Daniels: Michael Anthony Brown.
Director: Andrew Pearson.
Designer: Matt Moran.
Costume: June Cooke.