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Scott's Theatre Beat: My Kind of Town

June 2012

My Kind of Town Chicago…Maybe

 

 

 

My Kind of Town is a searing and powerful first play from the pen of John Conroy.  It is about crime and punishment, corruption and coercion, in and from the Chicago Police Department’s infamous Area 2 detective squad.  It is also about the moral and ethical ambiguities of a society in the grip of the fear of crime and the effects of crime.

 

The detectives covered the toughest area of Chicago’s Southside. It was in the heart of the "gangbanger” territory, a mean, violent area.  Stories about a group of detectives using torture and beatings to get confessions out of suspects floated out of Area 2.  These detectives had a 98% case closing record, a phenomenal and unbelievable rate.  It was something that should have raised questions within the command structure of the police department and the justice system and within the community in which these things were happening, but what questions were raised were muted and not pursued with very much vigor. 

 

Conroy, as a free-lance journalist, looked into what was being told and discovered that there was plenty of fire behind the smoke of the stories.  What he found was a group of detectives practicing all manner of torture to extract confessions from people they considered to be "low-life’s” deserving of being swept from the streets.  He found a community willing to turn a blind eye to the stories in exchange for the relative, albeit small, security that came from getting the worst of the bad guys off the streets.

 

Otha Jefferies, played with the fierceness and conviction by Charles Gardner, is the young thug who is tortured into confessing to a crime he says he did not commit.  We have no reason to be sympathetic towards this person since he has a rap sheet of stealing cars and dealing drugs, even shooting a friend in the leg.  But he did not have a history of violence and certainly not murder. 

 

Dan Breen, skillfully played by David Parkes as the personification of the persecutors, is the detective to lead the "enhanced interrogation” of Otha and to get the confession that will get him off the streets for the rest of his life.  The assistant state’s attorney Maureen Buckley, well acted by Maggie Kettering, is assigned to the case and is at the station house when the confession is being extracted and may or may not know what is happening in the interrogation. 

 

There is another person there that night, an African-American detective, George Dawson (A.C. Smith) who is not part of the regular detachment. Both he and the state’s attorney suspect what is going on in the basement of the station house but neither wants to "rock the boat” so they distract each other from what is happening.  This moment will affect both of them over the ensuing years, creating, in the end, a major ethical conflict for Maureen and completely altering the career of Dawson and ultimately his life.

 

The die is now cast.  Otha’s confession will carry him to prison with only his mother believing his claims of torture.  Mildred Marie Langford is wonderful as Rita Jefferies as she tries to get someone to listen to her son’s story.  She finally convinces a law firm to look into the case and they assign a young Hispanic attorney Robert Morales (Derek Garza) to take on the case.

 

Added to this mix are Otha’s estranged father Albert Jefferies (Trinity P. Murdock), a Chicago police officer who believes that his son is guilty.  Ann Breen (Danica Monroe) the lead detective’s wife who believes her husband at first but as time goes on begins to have questions about this man who is a good, loving, and gentle man around her and their friends but may have a dark side.  Her change in view is the result of her conversations over the years with her sister Peg (Carolyn Hoerdemann).  The interaction between the two women provides an important element to the definition of detective Dan Breen’s character and to the whole idea of the context of acceptable behavior.

 

The story presented to us by the Timeline Theatre Company is an examination of the moral ambiguities of a society that is fearful of crime yet condones, even tacitly, any means to achieve safety and security.  It is directed by Nick Bowling with a deftness in the tone and pace, masterfully guiding the superb cast through the complexity of the story, allowing them to deliver a solid, riveting performance.  The staging is solid with the scenic design by Brian Sidney Bembridge and lighting design by Nic Jones.

 

John Conroy has made a compelling morality/problem play and Nick Bowling has brought it to life without getting lost in a swamp of accusation and indignation. The story is told with flashbacks to illuminate the moral, ethical, and emotional issues faced by each of the characters in the unfolding of the history of the case.  The brilliant cast weaves back and forth through the perceptions and choices facing the characters, guiding us all to the central point of the drama—we all play a part in the corruption of values.

 

 

© Scott L. Bennett, Jr.  2012

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