‘The Rant’ is compelling, important theater

Amos Hamrick (Charles Simmons) and Nikki Massoud (Lila Mahnaz) in Gamm's "The Rant." Photo by Peter Goldberg.
Amos Hamrick (Charles Simmons) and Nikki Massoud (Lila Mahnaz) in Gamm’s “The Rant.” Photo by Peter Goldberg.

By Kimberly Harper, WPRO Arts and Entertainment Contributor 

“The truth is just another kind of prejudice,” the cover of the program for Gamm’s “The Rant” reads, and it’s a sentiment oft repeated in the short time the play takes to completely turn your perception of justice on its head.

In today’s society, where tales of police brutality seem to litter the front page, it would be easy to believe Denise Reeves (played by Kym Gomes) when she sits in an interrogation room at the top of the show, telling the story of her son Benjamin who was shot by a police officer. It’s a tragic story and Gomes is completely committed to the role, her emotions tugging at your heart the entire time. There’s just one problem – parts of the story are literally incredible, clearly bordering on fantasy at worst or a mother’s bias at best – and as much as you want to believe this is an open and shut case of an officer’s abuse of power, something doesn’t sit quite right.

Police investigator Lila (Niki Massoud) believes her, but in short time she reveals her long-standing bias against the police department, a prejudice that goes back to her childhood in New Bedford. Her monologue is smug, self-congratulatory. She eats better, is smarter, has more wits, and is waiting for a true villain, someone worth her effort to go after. It looks like accused  – and now retired – Sgt. Clarke might be her golden ticket. Cynical journalist Alex (played by Tony Estrella) is more skeptical of Reeves’ account but agrees to  anonymously run the story – and all hell breaks loose for Lila in the wake of its publication.

Officer Simmons (Amos Hamrick) who was with Sgt. Clarke that night is interrogated again, and is not happy about it. He has his own issues going on – the sergeant he holds up as a beacon of honor has resigned. The black residents on his beat think he’s a sell out. But sticks to the party line – they got an emergency call, he sat in the car, no one saw anything. Another incredible story. Someone’s lying, and by the end of the act you’re inclined to think it’s everyone. The final moments of the play stand to show the audience the tragedy that existed for everyone involved that night.

Directed by Tyler Dobrowsky, “The Rant” is performed in 90 minutes with no intermission. The set is minimalist, with just a couple of desks and a few chairs, bare lightbulbs and lighting that changes to denote changes in locale. The walls are literally papered with investigation files from various deaths in police custody. It is a powerful scene that compliments the powerful story these four actors give us.

The end of the play will leave you questioning the truth and quite possibly questioning your own biases as well. There’s lots of good theater in Rhode Island these days but few could be classified as truly important to see. “The Rant” is one. Catch it before it closes, you’ll be better for it.

“The Rant” runs through December 13. For tickets or more information, call 401-723-4266 or visit www.gammtheatre.org.

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