Terrapin Theatre, at Stage Left Theatre.

If the American media dehumanized the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman and the grief of their families by making O.J.’s trial into entertainment, Joseph Fedorko does the opposite in his intelligent new play: he gives the made-up story of a woman whose husband was murdered a deep sensitivity, renewing its humanity. He also raises the question of capital punishment.

Director Jeff Neal handles the charged material in this Terrapin Theatre world premiere creatively: he often keeps characters in view even when they aren’t taking part in the scene, so that we can still see their expressions. The courtroom scenes in particular reflect the unrelenting agony of the circumstances: we see Grace, the victim’s widow, and the victim’s sister Valerie off to the side as the two lawyers make their arguments directly to the audience and the expressionless accused killer looms in the shadow of a guard.

Fedorko’s approach can be a bit heavy-handed, however. Though the scenes when Grace meets accused killer Jackson are powerful, she embraces his humanity too quickly. Discovering that he’s just another human being, not a monster, Grace seems to forget his brutality: besides shooting her husband, he also beat and shot to death a couple. Similarly, Fedorko seems to invalidate Valerie’s rage and eye-for-an-eye thinking by suggesting she’s unstable. He makes the prosecutor arrogant and power-hungry and the defense lawyer a modest humanitarian. It would be a more compelling play if these characters weren’t so cut-and-dried. Still, Acts of Contrition does challenge preconceived ideas about murderers, victims, and our justice system: it’s a civilizing force in a society that takes such brutal crimes for granted.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bill Wood.