American Justice at Arts Theatre London

I made it to the opening night of Richard Vergette's tautly written 90-minute play, American Justice last week. It moved to Covent Garden's hip Arts Theatre following a well-received run in Manchester (with a different cast). Seated in the front row we, friend and I, could see the whites of the actors eyes and every minute facial expression, which added to the tension. The talented and versatile David Schaal was, for my money, the anchor of the play. Playing the part of the Republican anti-a-rab Obama prison warden, he guards the young Fenton, played with conviction (pardon the pun) by Ryan Gage. Fenton, illiterate and full of rage, is serving life for the murder of Democrat Congressman Daniels's daughter. Gage excels at facial expression: rage, fear, mistrust deeply etched.

Daniels, it seems, was swept into power because of his highly-publicised forgiveness of his daughter's apparent killer. Yet it's not enough for Daniels. He also takes it upon himself to educate Fenton, whilst having ideology clashes with the warden, (the only book he needs if the Good Book / electric chair etc). But is the forgiveness all it appears?

Daniels, played by Peter Tate, had the weakest accent of the trio; it kept slipping, which was unfortunate, and yet he did have the lion's share of the lines.

I learnt that Schaal's character, the warden, hasn't existed in previous runs, and whilst it is now easy to remark upon how that seems impossible having not seen the play without his character, I truly cannot imagine the play working as well without Schaal. The warden brings the vital anti-Democrat confrontations needed to keep this Obama-era play energised.
I found it telling (but of what I'm not yet certain) that the two plays I have seen this week (Julius Cesar at the Donmar) had both utilised on-stage screens to act as CCTV monitors in their respective prison settings.

What also made American Justice at the Arts Theatre most refreshing was the young audience.

American Justice is only on until February, so get booking.

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