Theater Review: Count Dispels the Anesthetic of Distance from Death Row | Arts
Arts
INDY Week's arts blog

Archives | RSS | Follow on

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Theater Review: Count Dispels the Anesthetic of Distance from Death Row

Posted by on Thu, Aug 31, 2017 at 1:30 PM

PHOTO BY KRISTEN CHAVEZ
  • photo by Kristen Chavez
Count
★★★½
Closed Aug. 27
Kenan Theatre, Chapel Hill


Distance is a powerful anesthetic. The farther we live from neighborhoods blighted by the ammoniac stench of a commercial hog farm’s waste lagoons, for example, the less likely we are to feel their pain. If we never see the bodies crippled by black lung, which is on the rise again among Appalachian coal miners, or the stolen adolescence of foreign textile workers, it’s easier for us to deny their reality.

Count, the profoundly disquieting new docudrama by Lynden Harris, makes it clear that the same is true of capital punishment, particularly the structures that surround and support it. A number of works have looked at how the condemned die in the United States, but instead, Harris conspicuously focuses on how they live during the fifteen years, on average, they spend on death row before their sentences are carried out.

In 105 intermission-less minutes, Count takes us through a strictly regimented day on death row. Given the grinding sameness of all days there, it seems merely ironic at first when the oldest inmate, the erudite Long Beach (Brian D. Coats), sardonically paraphrases the Passover question, “Why is today different from all other days?” in the show’s opening seconds. Ultimately, though, we learn the date is December 31, the last day a sitting governor could commute a prisoner’s sentence to life without parole. But in a place where hope is the most tightly controlled substance, the fact is treated with disdain or disregard.

This co-production by the arts-activism group Hidden Voices and PlayMakers Repertory Company confronts various limitations in its efforts to place us in the cellblock, and not all of them were unavoidable. A black box or site-specific theater would have been far more appropriate for this psychological drama than the spacious, overtly theatrical Kenan Theatre. McKay Coble’s next-to-nonexistent set design did not convey the repressive, constrictive environment in Harris’s script.

There is a compressed fire-hose quality to the discourse at times—the sense that the playwright had to cover years of insights and revelations in just over an hour and a half. The closest this wordy encounter ever comes to capturing the monotony of death row comes when the offstage corrections officer announces weekly visitation on the intercom. When no one comes to visit, the inmates sit in silence.

Kathryn Hunter-Williams’s direction nurtured impressive ensemble work. Edward O’Blenis explored the sudden sharp edges of the soulful, depressive Richmond. Regional veteran Gil Faison shone, in his PlayMakers debut, as the sarcastic Brownsville. Jeffrey Blair Cornell’s vivid prisoner, Maine, recalled a boot-camp childhood with a deranged survivalist, and Chris Berry’s Kansas City recounted a neighborhood where “If you was sensitive, you was something to eat.” Richard McDonald’s Whitehouse, the most recent arrival, notes, “You can’t be rehabilitated if you ain’t never been habilitated in the first place.”

Still, Harris’s moving script ultimately conveys the cage of death row more palpably than this production does.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Pin It

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in Arts



Twitter Activity

Comments

Nice write up. Love the twists and turns and I hardily agree with the ultimate statement (and Camus since I …

by Perry on As the Durham Bulls Enter the Playoffs, We Wonder: What Exactly Is the Value of a Minor-League Championship? (Arts)

Just saw this last night. Did Rubin say that being around the Avetts would make life "matter" or just that …

by Drew Rhys on Full Frame: An Avetts Agnostic Finds Some Faith in May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers (Arts)

Most Read

No recently-read stories.

Visit the archives…

Most Recent Comments

Nice write up. Love the twists and turns and I hardily agree with the ultimate statement (and Camus since I …

by Perry on As the Durham Bulls Enter the Playoffs, We Wonder: What Exactly Is the Value of a Minor-League Championship? (Arts)

Just saw this last night. Did Rubin say that being around the Avetts would make life "matter" or just that …

by Drew Rhys on Full Frame: An Avetts Agnostic Finds Some Faith in May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers (Arts)

She made me a peanut butter and banana sandwichwithout bread. Now that's art.

by Geoff Dunkak on ADF Review: Queering Objects and Decoding the Body in Cherdonna's Clock that Mug or Dusted (Arts)

Maybe the lack of young people in attendance is partly because of the way the NC Gay and Lesbian Film …

by Jonathan H on A Twenty-One-Year-Old Finds a Welcoming Space at the Twenty-Two-Year-Old N.C. Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (Arts)

I agree that the vocal work is incredible! And, I thought that the well-made and beautifully-designed set really supported the …

by Judy Dove on Theater Review: Dogfight's Regional Premiere at NRACT Is Rich in Emotion But Meager in Staging (Arts)

© 2017 Indy Week • 320 E. Chapel Hill St., Suite 200, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation