is just another word for "my side is the right side," and this vexed and vexing struggle is at the center of
In a Daughter's Eyes
, an engrossing new A. Zell Williams play whose world premiere ends InterAct Theatre Company's season.
"Hate you can't turn off - it's like a leaky faucet," and these two daughters have had their lives defined by hatred. Rehema (Lynnette R. Freeman) is the daughter of a Black Panther, imprisoned on death row for years for the murder of a policeman, father of Kathryn (Krista Apple). The playwright uses these fictionalized characters to revisit the Free Mumia movement after the killing of Officer Daniel Faulkner, transposing the action from Philadelphia to Oakland, Calif., and continuing the horror, the rage, and the violence into the 21st century.
Contrary to every expectation, the play does not sink into agitprop or sloganeering. By locating the debate between two young women decades after the original event, Williams makes us understand how personal the quest for "justice" is, and how women, outraged by male abuse and likening misogyny to racism, can themselves sink to brawling and brutality.
In Act 1, each tries to persuade the other to do what she wants; Rehema wants Kathryn to write an appeal to the courts to release evidence she needs to pursue her father's appeal - the case she went to Stanford Law School to be able to argue. Her character, and Freeman's portrayal, edge dangerously close to cliche: thuggish clothes, strutting walk, lots of attitude, street language. Kathryn, a nurse, seems kind and conciliatory, and guilty of the wishy-washiness of which Rehema accuses her.
By Act 2, everything has changed - Kathryn is wrecked, Rehema is sleek - and thus the play acknowledges the complexity of the feelings and the issues. Each daughter has an emblem, a talisman that signifies her father: Kathryn's is a police badge; Rehema's is a piggy bank. The way these two symbols are eventually linked is, if contrived, crucial to the play's meaning and its intriguing structure.
Under the smart direction of Rebecca Wright, the two actors turn in vivid performances, although the event that concludes the first act could be clarified, perhaps by a more intelligible lighting design rather than a merely shocking one.
There is no tidy answer to the play's messy issue, and In a Daughter's Eyes shows us the truth of the play's final line, "Nobody gets everything they want."
In a Daughter's Eyes
Presented by InterAct Theatre Company at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom St., through June 19. Tickets $27-$32. Information: 215-568-8079, www.InterActTheatre.org.