The beauty of Ike Holter’s 2017 play about a young Latino seeking justice after being beaten up by a cop is how deftly Holter avoids the temptation of simple didacticism and instead turns a sensational incident into the catalyst for a complex morality tale. Over 90 taut minutes Holter presents us with a story full of flawed, deep characters. No one in the play is completely honest, and everyone’s motives are tainted. The young man at the center of the drama (played with passion and depth by Alberto Mendoza) is no saint; he stole money from his employer, and he withholds key details from his story (he was drunk, he provoked the fight). We also find out he changed his name from Alejandro to Abe, but he’s no “honest Abe.”
Yet his cause is just. He was the victim of a hate crime.
Meanwhile the cop, played with blond, blue-eyed intensity by Christian Isely, looks at first like the villain of the play. But the more we get to know him, the more we see he’s something else: a burnt-out case for sure, but also someone who has a moral center, or at least used to have one, and now is seething with anger, riven by ambivalence, and utterly revolted by the decadent world around him. He’s also probably not the cop who beat up Abe, a fact Holter slips in late in the story to reveal the full complexity of the dark world he has created. In fact, we never know which side this cop is on, but that just makes him of a piece with all the other morally ambiguous characters in Holter’s fascinating tale.
Director Lili-Anne Brown remains true to the material. There are no easy answers, and Brown keeps it that way. José Manuel Diaz-Soto’s gritty urban set includes several walls festooned with posters featuring caricatures of Trump as Hitler, but that is no easy swipe at Twitler. They are there to introduce one of the themes of the play: that hate indeed has a home here.
Brown’s casting is strong, and her cast’s performances are multilayered. Gabriela Diaz delivers an exceptionally subtle performance as Abe’s sister, who slowly realizes over the course of the evening how untrustworthy people are (even her brother) and how complicated—and fallen—the world is.
But all the performances in this fine production reveal the full power and grace in Holter’s story. From the first moments of the play we are pulled in, and we remain enthralled throughout. And then, after the lights come up, we are left, bereft, to sort it all out alone. v