By Daniel Skora
It could easily be a story ripped from the pages of any big city newspaper. A woman in her car is stopped in traffic. Up ahead, an altercation is taking place between a young man and the police. The woman opens the car door and takes out her cell phone, which prompts one of the officers to approach and ask her what’s she’s doing.
The woman tells him that she’s not doing anything, that she’s stopped in traffic like everybody else. The officer asks her to step out, then throws her against the hood of the car and smashes her phone on the pavement. The woman screams that her baby’s in the back seat of the car. Her protestations continue as the officer searches her, all the while demanding to know what she was doing with her phone. Before long, the woman is off to jail, her baby having been taken from her. She’s booked with a laundry list of charges, impeding traffic the most ridiculous, resisting arrest the most serious. What is perhaps most pertinent to the story is this: the woman who was arrested is black and the arresting officer was white.
Theatre Nova is presenting the world premier of David Wells’ tense drama “Resisting”. The woman in the play is named Tamika (Tayler Jones in a fine, emotionally moving performance), and the events that follow her harrowing arrest have to do with the emotional ordeal she is put through. She’s booked, spends the night in jail, and is released on bail, which her father has to procreate from the rent money. Several meetings with a public defender (Annie Dilworth) follow.
Tamika is merely the artistic expression of countless numbers of real life black people who have been falsely accused by police, some whose names and faces are projected onstage at the beginning of the show to set the scene. The play represents a tactic sometimes used by police and the legal system in which an accused is assailed with multiple charges and then offered a deal to plead guilty to one of the lesser ones. Because Tamika is sure that she has done nothing wrong and that truth is on her side, she decides instead to take her case to trial.
“Resisting” is as entertaining as it is unsettling. The totally believable story of a black woman caught in circumstances beyond her control combined with an almost textbook interpretation of how it’s possible for racial bias to exist in the legal system makes for riveting theatre.
Some sidebar issues have a tendency of interrupting the dynamic and the excitement of the play’s primary focus even while adding background to the various characters. Tamika’s father (Will Bryson) suggests she accept the plea deal because that’s how blacks adapted to police brutality in the old days; the public defender has an opportunity to leave her PD days behind and join a corporate law firm; and Tamika makes periodic trips to her nursery to wax philosophical with her baby. Both Bryson and Patrick O’Lear, who plays the arresting officer, play multiple roles. “Resisting” runs approximately 90 minutes without intermission. It’s relevant, fast-paced, and thought provoking. See it for the great piece of theatre that it is.
Director is Billicia Charnelle Hines, who also does sound design. Set design and projections are by Forrest Hejkel. Costumes are by Carla Milarch with lighting by Daniel C. Walker. Stage manager for this production is Michelle Resnick.
The show runs through November 19th. Tickets are available by calling the theatre’s box office at 734.635-8450. Contact A2TheatreNOVA@gmail.com or go online at www.TheatreNova.org for more information. Theatre Nova is located at 410 W. Huron Street, a stone’s throw off the road in downtown Ann Arbor.