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Theater Review: The Witness Room

Louie Liberti, Moe Irvin, Tricia Small, Mitch Rosander and Dave Baez in The WItness Room. Photo by Kenny Johnston.

In The Witness Room, a spare space in the Manhattan Criminal Court building, four NYPD cops posture and catch up. They’re waiting their turns to testify at a hearing.

The cops were involved in a drug arrest that just might be based on fabricated evidence. Did they really hear a cry of distress that gave them justifiable cause to enter an apartment without a search warrant? Did they really think they saw a gun in the defendant’s pocket? Were drugs in plain view when they entered, or did they conduct an illegal search?

The fact that the testimony requires significant strategizing with prosecutor Andrea Volpi (Tricia Small) starts to feel uncomfortable. At first resisting her attempts to rehearse them, they slowly realize their stories don’t match up. Layers build as inconsistencies come out and a frustrated prosecutor tries to beat them into consistency.

“Do it exactly like we went over, say it the right way. Don’t open the door for Suarez,” Volpi advises them, referring to the defense attorney. She leaves the police she serves and protects defensive and defiant, yet dependent on her to help them keep their stories straight. It’s an ugly portrait of the blue wall of silence.

Two of the cops, Terrence Sampson (Moe Irvin) and Kevin Brennan (Mitch Rosander) are willing to go along. Brennan reminds the group, “We’re the good guys.” A long-winded philosopher, he references Occam’s Razor and justifies what increasingly looks like it might not be.

TJ Moretti (Louie Liberti) resents being told how to testify. Macho and self-righteous, he wins the “most likely to screw it up for the group” prize.

Eli Torres (Dave Baez), the moral voice of the group, is going through a divorce and seems to be losing control. The only one expressing any religious beliefs, he speaks his truth, which doesn’t bode well for the others or himself.

Casual racism against each other and the defendant. Even the moralizing Torres, Puerto Rican himself, accuses his partners of profiling “the spic.”

Perhaps the most intriguing character is Suarez, the unseen defense attorney. His piercing questions are relayed in the witness room, as the gladiators return from doing battle with him.

This is a return to Whitefire by playwright Pedro Antonio Garcia; his Firehouse had a successful run in 2011. His script for The Witness Room captures the moral questions behind policing, but it’s hard to imagine a witness room playing out this way. A particularly intense moment leads to dialogue that sparked unintentional laughter in the audience. Bryan Rasmussen, Whitefire’s owner and artistic director, directs.

The Witness Room is performed Saturdays only, at 8:00 pm, through April 27 at Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks. Tickets are available here.

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Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen has lived in the Brookside neighborhood since 1993. She works as a freelance writer, editor and consultant. She's also a playwright affiliated with Theatre West.

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