Redemption, a new play by Josh Cragun, is currently being presented by Nimbus Theatre at the newly opened Crane Theater in Northeast Minneapolis. It is a play that tackles the criminal justice system by focusing on two offenders after they are released from prison and those who were affected by their crimes.
I saw the play last Friday night and have been thinking about it ever since. I haven’t exactly been able to come to a conclusion about my opinions on it. This is because I keep going back and forth about things in my mind, being my own devil’s advocate. It would be fantastic to have others to discuss this show with.
There are some things that I am sure of. Overall the show is very solid, I thought the first act felt a bit like an after school special, but I was much more impressed by the second act. One thing that is for certain is this show is a vehicle for some very strong performances. The entire ensemble gives convincing performances but I was particularly moved by Ashe Jaafaru as Dee, the daughter of one of the convicts. She is a new name to me but is definitely one that I am going to keep my eye on. I hope that the Twin Cities gets to see much more of her work in the future.
Redemption also does a good job of highlighting the injustices of the criminal justice system. It is clear that the work was well researched, but where I struggle is in the methods of storytelling and the character’s backstories. At multiple points in the play a flashback is shown while the main character narrates their story. In this diverse cast this often means that one character is shown as different races. I’m torn as how to interpret this. Although I enjoy it when race is played with in theater, and think that diversity is extremely important and also a weak point of many other theater companies around town, race also plays a big role in the criminal justice system and I don’t know if deracializing these characters in this way was the best decision. Throughout these backstories we find the two convicts to be extremely sympathetic, perhaps too much so. Although I do not doubt that stories such as these exist, do they need to seem so “innocent” to earn sympathy? I would argue that even a more hardened criminal than those we are presented with in Redemption deserve much more than they are now given. At the same time I think that this is an extremely important story to be told, and these characters are easy to relate to, and hopefully this story with these characters will help educate audience members of the problems that we currently face.
These aren’t small questions to wrestle with but they are important ones. So go see the show, and come up with your own opinions and let me know what you think. With this show more than others I have seen recently I want to discuss it.
Redemption is currently playing at the Crane Theater until May 14th.