Credit: Shepsu Aakhu

In case you need a reminder of just how insightful and powerful a writer Chicago’s Shepsu Aakhu is, consider MPAACT’s staging of his new play about the multiply conflicted allegiances of two African-American Chicago police officers in the immediate aftermath of the Laquan McDonald video release. Even with a fundamentally misconceived production, the script’s intellectual rigor and visceral impact are unmistakable.

Over a single day in the patch of South Shore known as Terror Town, officers Rabedeau and Sexton patrol with uncharacteristic tentativeness: it’s Rabedeau’s first day back after being shot nearly to death months ago as he attempted to talk down a man in midpsychotic break, and Sexton has arranged for any potentially traumatizing calls to be sent to other units. That leaves the partners ample time to mull and parse—in artfully constructed prose—the disastrous state of social, political, economic, and psychological affairs on the streets around them, all conspiring to turn Sexton heartless and Rabedeau hopeless. They’re so loquacious that a routine stop to clear loitering youth from a street corner turns into a ten-minute semipoetic disquisition on a century’s worth of psychosocial determinants of racial inequity.

Like much of Aakhu’s script, it’s a rigorous, blistering spoken-word piece, far removed from cops talking on street corners. Trouble is, director Andrea J. Dymond treats everything as realistic dialogue, so little feels dramatically credible. But even with this disconnect, the surgical precision of Aakhu’s successively more unsettling set pieces carries the evening.   v