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THEATER REVIEW Sheepdog
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2020-02-04

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Playwright: Kevin Artigue

At: Shattered Globe Theatre at Theater, Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave. Tickets: $42. Runs through: Feb. 29

Have you heard the story about the investigation of a white cop who shot a Black suspect? Of course you have—just as you've heard the one about the co-workers on the police force who fall in love and embark on a plan to marry.

Oh, and let's not forget the one about the woman torn between her own misgivings and her loyalty to her on-and-off-duty partner. How, then, does Kevin Artigue succeed in generating so much empathy, excitement and introspection from a collection of literary premises explored to exhaustion in recent years?

First, his discourse concerns itself with facts: you will find no dinner-table speculations swapped by opinionated family members, but instead, an unswerving focus on the question of what actually happened. ( "I'm not a forensic psychiatrist," declares our protagonist, "I don't deal in the Whys." ) Second, the fatal event has already occurred, offering the possibility of an "objective" answer to our query, albeit with motive still subject to argument. Third, while we make firsthand acquaintance of two characters, only one is permitted to address us directly, making for an uncommonly spare and uncluttered narrative line.

What most elevates Artigue's procedural above the plethora of boys/babes-in-blue literary exercises, mass-produced by screenwriting workshops and op-ed columns in recent years, is his rejection of sexist gender stereotypes so ubiquitous as to be visible only when absent.

To be sure, differing personalities are required to generate the conflict necessary to dramatic tension, but even if officers Amina Duckett and Ryan Tilson are of similar age, ambition and a history of hardscrabble childhoods, the former is the more mature, experienced, streetwise and stoical of the partners, while the latter's upbringing has rendered him nurturing, introverted, impressionable and thus, vulnerable to influence by misanthropic peers like those subscribing to the values promulgated in an unapproved manual dividing the world into villains and victims ( "wolves"and "sheep" ) with the "sheepdogs" characterized as wolves protecting all that is Good. Ryan, being white, is oblivious to the racist subtext concealed in this simplistic cosmology, but which Amina recognizes immediately. Too late, both come to identify the real villains as a society whose goal is the furthering of hostility and confusion.

Under the direction of Wardell Julius Clark, Leslie Ann Sheppard and Drew Schad resist their well-made play's potential reduction to symposial disputation, instead navigating Artigue's eloquent dialogue to deliver exemplary performances steeped in discovery commanding our attention amid the never-seen, but vividly invoked, environment conjured by Christopher Kriz and Smooch Medina, whose on-point replications of crime-scene footage forever dispel the myth of cameras never lying.


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