The Colour of Justice

An absorbing courtroom drama examining racism on a London police force


Through May 26

Admission is $7.50-19

(510) 436-5085

Oakland YWCA, 1515 Webster (at 15th Street), Oakland

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This topical play from England is just an edit of transcripts from a trial over the 1993 death of a young black man, Stephen Lawrence, at the hands of white thugs in suburban London. The trial investigated racism on the police force, asking why the thugs were never arrested. TheatreFIRST presents it at the Oakland YWCA in full courtroom style, with the audience posing as jury, listening to 10 barristers grill a parade of witnesses. The vérité quality of the conversations is boosted by the sheer variety of London types who take the stand: surly constables, diffident inspectors, helpful Irish Catholics, defiant street punks, and the bitter, shattered Lawrence family. It amounts to an absorbing three hours of theater, although the outcome is never in doubt -- we don't wonder if the righteous team of investigating lawyers is wrong to smell racism on the breath of London cops. What's fascinating is the way playwright (or "editor") Richard Norton-Taylor explores the subtleties of prejudice through lapses in police work and defensive outbursts in the officer testimonies. Out of the sprawling 36-member cast, Terry Lamb, Anna Ishida, and Patrice Lukulu Binaisa give especially strong performances, and so does Veneita Porter, as Stephen's mother, wondering if the police "would not want to dirty their hands with the blood of a black man."

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