CONTINUUM: The Journal of African Diaspora Drama, Theatre and Performance  ISSN 2471-2507
Volume 4 Number 1
 - August 2017

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Seeking Dialogue and Change: Objectively/Reasonable
From August 18th through September 4, 2016 in the Creative Space at Waterloo Arts (397 E. 156th Street, Cleveland, OH 44110), the artistic organization, Playwrights Local, stages their new documentary work about the Tamir Rice Shooting.

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The playwrights Mike Geither, Tom Hayes, Lisa Langford, Michael Oatman, and David Todd conducted interviews with people in diverse communities in Cleveland. The resulting script has become a “collage” expressing multiple viewpoints of people. Director Terrence Spivey and dramaturg David Todd held public auditions, allowing a wide range of community people to participate in this project. The title of the work “Objectively/Reasonable” comes from the “mysterious” phrase that Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty used to justify the actions of Officer Timothy Lehmann, who opened fire on Tamir holding what proved to be a toy gun at the Cudell Recreation Center, moments after arriving on the scene.

The small performance space at Waterloo Art is equipped with a white screen and several black wooden blocks. The opening montage of movement with music enacts the history of slavery from capture, the middle passage, to slave labor in the South to the music of “The Message” (by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five) and a section of "I'll Be So Glad When The Sun Goes Down" and "Keep Your Eyes on the Prize."

The monologues are imbued with collective and individual movement, silhouettes (seen through the screen), and responses, which transform words into “sculptured” stories. Lighting designer Margaret Peebles creates multiple places with sectional and strobe lighting, underscoring tensions and emotions. The monologues recreate the setting for the interviews. For example, “A Peaceful Place” takes place in a nightclub, where Brenton Lyles as a waiter–balancing an imaginary tray–describes how he survived arrests and detentions. Samone Cummings (age 10) as a girl taking a ballet lesson expresses her feelings about the shooting: “My feelings on Tamir is, it was a total injustice.” JamekaTerri as a police officer justifies the shooting in a news conference where other actors thrust microphones at her.

Some monologues provide a context in terms of race and city-politics. Ananias Dixon, as an Indian American attorney, reminisces about the time when he was stopped by the police at a traffic light. In that scene, Dixon, with the “character” of the police officer in a white mask, explains how the officer’s attitudes changed from threatening to friendly as he finds out about his background as a former city councilman. Nathan Tolliver, as the character of an activist, asks the audience to think about racially charged policing in the context of race history and politics. In the monologue about the aesthetic of the black body, Kaila Benford as a white female professor explains how the perception of race could consist of more than color. The five male performers, including 14-year-old Kali Hatten, naked from the waist up, stand on blocks, evoking the atmosphere of a slave auction.

The work contrasts the larger problem of police brutality against blacks and the singular death of Tamir Rice. This child’s death situated in a political and social discourse deprived his family of a time for bereavement. JamekaTerri as an activist-poet explains how this incident was used to play “Black people’s egos” which were soothed by the invitations of black activists to “a mythological table” at different meetings. In “The Loss of a Child” LaShawn Little points out the unfairness of asking Tamir’s mother Samaria Rice to be a “public figure” while she needs to mourn the loss of her son. The show ends with Samaria Rice’s monologue, personalizing this “public incident” in the most moving way. Her monologue, delivered by Ashley Aquilla, brings her dead son to life as a loving and affectionate child. Aquilla makes the audience feel like it is listening to Samaria Rice in person.

The Tamir Rice shooting on November 22, 2014 was one of many fatal shootings of blacks by the police in the past decade. In 2014, alone, there were a number of cases including Dontre Hamilton (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), Michael Brown Jr. (Ferguson, Missouri), John Crawford III (Dayton, Ohio), Ezell Ford (Florence, California), Akai Gurley (Brooklyn, New York), Rumain Brisbon (Phoenix, Arizona), Jerame Reid (Bridgeton, New Jersey). The city of Cleveland was already known for the deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams shot by the Cleveland Police in 2012. Additionally just nine days before Tamir Rice was shot, Tanisha Anderson died after officers allegedly slammed her head on the pavement while taking her into custody. Objectively/Reasonable, the first documentary play about the Tamir Rice shooting, offers a new venue for people not only to engage in community dialogues and activism but also to provide an invaluable space to mourn for the loss of the young boy.  

Yuko Kurahashi
School of Theatre and Dance
Kent State University