By Grace Dawson
On November 6th, “The Defamation Experience” was brought to Plymouth State University. The play, written by Todd Logan and brought to the university by Dr. Francis Williams of the Criminal Justice department, focuses on the issues of race, class, religion, and gender. It examines the case of Ms. Regina Wade, who runs Eagle Graphics, a legal graphic design firm, who is suing Mr. Arthur Golden for defamation.
The premise upon which the defamation case is based is that Mr. Golden accuses Ms. Wade of stealing a watch of his which had a high sentimental value, which causes Ms. Wade’s company, Eagle Graphics, to lose the deal with Siegel & Karmin, a law firm which employs Ms. Jordan, a woman who had a professional friendship with Ms. Wade. The case works through biases of class and race as Ms. Wade, a black woman, is accused of stealing the “lily-white” (as Ms. Wade’s lawyer Mr. Lawton puts it) Mr. Golden’s watch.
The case and the play were very carefully designed by playwright Todd Logan so that it would be difficult to make a decision on a ruling. It relied on social pressures, as everyone was required to vote for the outcome by standing up in front of their peers, and called to attention loyalties based on both established relationships and the boundaries of class, race, and gender. The event was split into 3 sections entitled “The Play,” “The Deliberation,” and “The Discussion;” after the proceedings of the play and deliberation were over, the cast of the play talked to the students about these pressures and listened to student thoughts about the outcome, influences, evidences, and sources of bias.
The cast acknowledges the difficulty of picking a side in the case: “Sometimes we even argue the outcome on the way to or from a performance,” said managing producer Kimm Beavers, who also played Mr. Golden’s lawyer Ms. Allen. “We like to refrain from telling audiences our own opinions,” added Gina Taliaferro, who played Ms. Jordan and is the post-show facilitator for this tour, “because we don’t want to sway the audience in a particular way.”
Every member of the cast was outstanding in their role. James Leaming, in the role of Judge Adrian Barnes, was stern enough in his demeanor to keep everyone in their seats for all 75 minutes of the play and exercising his power over the passionate and slightly long-winded Mr. Lawton, played by Brian Sheridan who aroused the audience with his fervor and tactics (and yes, his humor and sometimes sheer volume). Kimm Beavers was fair yet stern in her role as Ms. Allen, defending her client, sympathizing with the plaintiff Ms. Wade about her situation, and delivering the final riveting statement in the case with such a mix of logic and emotion that it was one of the determining factors in the large number of “undecided” votes. Krystel V. McNeil showed the audience the triumphs and struggles of Ms. Regina Wade that had led her up to the trial, and several students in the discussion section spoke of how her body language had influenced their votes. Gina Taliaferro embodied the role of Ms. Lorraine Jordan, showing the audience of the jury the difficulty of being put between loyalty defined by work relationships and conventions of race, class, and gender (and also led the discussion afterwards, encouraging audience members to share their opinions and answering questions to aid in the understanding of the lessons of the play as well as the outcome). Todd Michael Kiech portrayed Mr. Arthur Golden. The skill it takes to play a white man accusing a woman of color of stealing something while at the same time trying to retain an image of non-racism, is an incredibly difficult feat. To his absolute credit, there was no point where his argument was made invalid, nor his side dismissed by any kind of racial bias.
“The Defamation Experience” has been viewed by thousands of people, from corporations to law school classes to middle schoolers. Every audience is faced with the decision and allowed to take part in the deliberation and discussion, and every audience takes away a knowledge and awareness of the way that the hot-button issues of race, class, religion, and gender shape decisions, perceptions, and society. The play’s website can be found at https://defamationtheplay.com/index.htmland provides cast lists, contact information, contextual information, and a letter from playwright Todd Logan.