All it takes is a moment, a split second, a wrong decision made in haste under unimaginable stress, and a life, possibly lives will be altered forever.
In Stray Cat Theatre's Arizona premiere of the absorbing 2019 play Sheepdog by Kevin Artigue, now playing at Tempe Center for the Arts Studio Theatre until March 26th, a young police officer in an interracial partnership - he's white, she's black - answers an emergency call while on duty...
Playwright Kevin Artigue's dialog is razor-sharp. It's not just the tension-filled dramatic exchanges between Amina and Ryan that keep you glued, it's the earlier, teasing interactions between the couple as they slowly get to know each other that works equally well. She can't believe he's never read anything by writer and playwright, James Baldwin. "You need to take a class," she playfully insists. And he can't believe she doesn't know anything by Pearl Jam.
But as good as the writing may be, a play is never going to work if the cast is not up to the demands of the script. Under Louis Farber's direction - almost all action is blocked downstage before us creating a continual sense of intimacy, even on a wide forum - both Royall and Mahon are exemplary as the young couple whose racial divide is in danger of going nowhere. Both performers flesh their characters to the point where everything said, every action taken, feels natural; nothing jars. Mahon's Ryan remains likable, even when you suspect that events may not be quite what he's saying. And Royall's Amina expresses such a warm heart, it's easy to see why Ryan would fall in love with her.
When Ryan tries to explain what happened on that call, the pain he's expressing, the torment he's so clearly feeling, all ring true. And when Amina sits, riveted in front of a screen replaying certain events of an event she was never there to witness but can now see via a dash-cam, it's not what she's says that breaks your heart, it's the moment of silence as she watches. This is great theatre.