REVIEW OF NEW PLAY BY JASON SHERMAN AT TARRAGON
Jason Shermans new play Copy That opened at the Tarragon Theatre and one is hard pressed to come to grips with it. We meet four fast-talking, excited and anxious writers who are under the gun to draft four episodes of a cop show for television. The pressure comes from above, the voice of Ella, also known as The Angel of Death who merits a Nazi salute. Elsa is played with Gauleiter and duplicitous style by Janet-Laine Green.
The talking and moving speed is reduced to comprehensible speed and we find out the identity of the writes (but not much more) and some details about wrestling with a script to please Elsa, the network and people in higher places which may stretch to God.
The writers are a motley crew, intentionally choses as such. Maia (Emma Ferreira) is half black and half white, Colin (Tony Ofori) is black and Peter (Richard Waugh) and Danny (Jeff Lillico) are all white.
What appears as a play about the turbulent lives of writers trying to please and write a TV series that will work takes a sharp turn when Colin is stopped by a couple of cops for driving a nice car while black. More precisely, for driving while under the influence of alcohol with an almost white woman (Maia) asleep in the back seat. What follows is a racist attack on Colin including tasering, physical assault and humiliating arrest. It is a familiar story that we get from many parts of the United States and we like to pretend that it does not happen in Canada.
From then on the play tackles the issue of racism, the representation of racist cops of television and the fight against that type of bigotry. The problem is that these writers are simply trying to write entertaining episodes for a television show. Therefore we have the clash of ordinary television programming and high moral standards and social conditions.
The arguments are not particularly original and the fight by Colin against writers who are trying to make a living and have to follow the instructions of The Angel of Hell and higher authorities is pretty staid. People sympathize with Colin but the reality of writing a script for television and the reality of being beaten up by racist cops cannot be united easily into a social, anti-racism tract and a multi-episode television series. Or can they not?
Sherman tries hard to convince us that maybe, just maybe the can but the end of the play is highly unsatisfactory, unclear and unconvincing.
There is relatively little character development. Peter is high-strung, histrionic and under pressure to please the boss. We do get some background information about him but he remains the same person, acting the same way almost throughout the play.
Jeff Lillicos Danny is basically a yes-man at the beginning and realistic about what the job requires until he is accused of racism because he maintains the dividing line between television entertainment and social commentary. Ferreira as Maia says relatively little until she explodes and asserts herself. But she backs off in her accusations of the racist cops of brutality and leaves us hanging.
There are a few laughs, much dramatic and over-dramatic acting but in the end you are left with relatively little to take with you on leaving the theatre. Director Jamie Robinson seems to have done his level best does his best to liven up the arguments but there is not enough substance to work with.
Copy That by Jason Sherman opened on November 13 and will play until December 6, 2019 at the Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Ave. Toronto, Ontario. www.tarragontheatre.com