This Won't Take Long
nytheatre.com review by Geeta Citygirl
August 16, 2006
The Innocence Project (founded in 1992) is a nonprofit legal clinic that deals with post-conviction DNA testing of evidence that can supply conclusive proof of innocence. Playwright David M. Korn was inspired to write this play after hearing about the real-life story of a 40-year old man with the mental development of only a 10-year old, who was convicted of rape and murder and served 17 years in prison only to then have lawyers fight for his release due to DNA tests that would prove his innocence.
This Won't Take Long gets its title from a line we often hear when someone is being questioned in an investigation. Mike, an old-school seasoned detective, and Joe, a newer guy, are shooting the breeze at the start of the play. We learn that a girl in the neighborhood has been reported missing. And then suspect John Henry Taylor is brought in for questioning.
The 100-minute play is, in fact, the interrogation. And it goes on and on as we are teetering on our own ideas of whether the suspect is innocent or guilty. Why does this suspect know or say certain things? And why does he seem unable to process very basic questions? It all leads us to believe that we aren't sure what to believe. But as we listen to the ways in which they question him, we start to wonder if maybe they are feeding him information and he is just aiming to please them by agreeing. They really aren't questioning him in the way you would in an interview setting. This psychological interrogation is very uncomfortable.
Race plays a part, since the suspect is a black man and the cops and missing girl are white. There are many complicated issues and the play brings up many questions. Unfortunately, it also leaves us hanging, and I ultimately wasn't sure what the writer was trying to say at the end. The premise of this story is fascinating, and with some workshops and editing, This Won't Take Long has great potential. But the current version of the play is too long and too repetitive.
The talented cast includes the detectives played by James Wetzel and John Speredakos, both of whom are convincing. Albert Christmas gives a phenomenal performance as the suspect, and his eyes and demeanor convey the childlike innocence necessary to add the seed of doubt.
Director Shango Amin misses several opportunities to sculpt this thought-provoking piece. There is a television set on stage broadcasting the live action, but the person in charge of taping sometimes zoomed in on things that suddenly become blurry or seemed to move the camera in a shaky way, so that this device was finally just distracting. The set and lighting by Alan Baron is basic, consisting of a table, chairs, a doorframe, and a phone, and a plain pool of light that serves the piece adequately.
"Based on a thousand true stories" is the tagline for this play. And with such a deeply political idea as its seed, I may have been expecting too much. I hope this play develops further and continues to grow and evolve into something great. The topic triggers conversations that are much needed in these often very unjust times.