There are two very compelling reasons for you to see Redeemed, the stellar new play by Chisa Hutchinson now enjoying its world premiere at the Contemporary American Theater Festival. The first is Hutchinson herself, who has proven to be one of modern theater’s preeminent wordsmiths. The other is Doug Harris, whose performance as incarcerated hate-crime killer Trevor Barlow is a master class in acting.
Hutchinson has packed a lot into this compact, 90-minute two-hander. The setting is the visitation room of a jail where Trevor, a young white man, is incarcerated after beating a young Asian man to death many years prior. In the visitation room, Trevor is visited by Claire Yiang, the sister of the man he killed. Their conversations flow in a stream of natural, intelligent, spellbinding dialogue as a psychological chess game ensues between them. The basic premise is that Trevor will be up for parole soon and he is hoping that he can convince Claire to put in a good word for him, thereby improving his odds of early release. Oh, and he claims that the ghost of Claire’s deceased brother has been visiting him in jail.
The script succinctly hones in on complex issues of racism, forgiveness, and otherness. Humor keeps it from being too pedantic. The character of Claire, in particular, is gifted with quick wit and clever zingers that she hurls mercilessly at Trevor as she bores into his psyche to uncover his real motive for inviting her to see him. “You expect the person who has lost the most to your white supremacy to help you capitalize on it?” she asks after pointing out that white people have a much higher chance of being granted parole than other races.
Elizabeth Sun does an admirable job in the role of Claire. This is Sun’s first professional acting job, and she doesn’t reach the stellar level of Harris’ performance or Hutchinson’s writing. Her performance feels too large at times, too performative for the pure and nuanced dialogue Hutchinson supplied her with. But she engages with the language in a way that brings it to life and continuously ups the ante in her relationship with Trevor.
Harris, in contrast, hit all the marks in his portrayal of Trevor. His character goes through a series of personality shifts to which Harris brings a delightful physicality, with chameleon-like facial expressions. As the play went on, one could almost suss out the inner, unspoken motivations behind his character’s words.
Director Marcus D. Harvey wisely keeps the action simple, giving us nowhere to look but directly into the faces of the two performers as they work through a series of mind games, gradually one-upping each other in a battle of words and wills. David. M. Barber’s scenic design is a no-frills visitation room. All the better for spotlighting the simple beauty of this compact play. A single table and two chairs rotate throughout the performance spinning periodically on a revolving stage, offering the in-the-round audience a variety of angles from which to see the intense faces of the two actors.
For the second year in a row, a Chisa Hutchinson play is my favorite at CATF. Just like last year’s Whitelisted, Redeemed contains an element of the supernatural (the ghostly visitations from Claire’s brother), which is rare and hard to pull off in theater. The combination of supernatural suggestions, well-elucidated social commentary, and thought-provoking humor makes Redeemed a must-see play in this year’s Contemporary American Theater Festival.
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
Redeemed plays through July 27, 2023, presented by the Contemporary American Theater Festival performing at the Marinoff Theatre, 62 West Campus Drive, Shepherdstown, WV, in repertory with four other CATF plays. See the CATF website (catf.org/2023-schedule) for performance dates and times. Purchase tickets ($70 regular, $60 senior) at catf.org/buy-tickets or through the box office, [email protected] or 681-240-2283.
COVID Safety: There is a mask-required performance on July 27 at 2 pm; otherwise, masks are optional.