nytheatre.com review by Danny Bowes
August 20, 2008
Australian import Reasonable Doubt is, in many ways, ready-made for commercial success in America, dealing as it does with two subjects that occupy a large place in America's voyeuristic heart: the criminal justice system and the endlessly complex relationships between men and women. One of its only foreign aspects is that the plot hinges on a key difference between Australia's justice system and ours, to quote playwright Suzie Miller's program notes: "In Australia, the jury system [allows] majority juries—i.e., it now takes two people to make a jury hang, not just one. In the U.S. the enshrined sanctity of the jury of 12 having to agree is maintained. This is the only difference in our jury systems."
Miller's script opens with Mitchell and Anna, two jurors from just such a hung jury two years before, meeting in a posh hotel in Sydney, for a "jury reunion" that Anna has organized, which Mitchell almost immediately recognizes as a pretense to reignite their extramarital affair, started during the case. In spite of the fact that Anna completely disagreed with Mitchell's assessment of the evidence presented, and in spite of the further inconvenient fact of their both being married to other people, Anna is drawn to Mitchell. Her attraction seems oddly chaste and schoolgirl-ish for a woman who invites a man to a hotel room, but this is merely because we haven't gotten the whole story yet.
As the play unfolds, layers and more layers of deceit are stripped away and difficult truths are confessed—some fairly obvious, like the jury reunion being a sham; some quite shocking, such as why Mitchell's wife is no longer around, and exactly why he crusaded so in his minority opinion as a juror. Ultimately we see two characters laid bare as desperately lonely people, wracked with guilt over their deceptions, questioning if there really is justice.
Miller's script is solid, if unspectacular. Her dialogue is razor-sharp, but although her examination of the legal system has considerably more depth than the untold scores of legal thriller paperbacks and TV courtroom dramas that glut the American market—the novelty of it being about a foreign if near-identical legal system is a small plus—it is nonetheless a subject matter about which nearly all that can be said has. It is in Miller's study of the relationship between Mitchell and Anna that a truly inspired spark can be found: this is the first story I've ever encountered where two people not having adulterous sex leads to their ultimate downfall.
As Mitchell and Anna, Nick Flint and Jeanette Cronin give vivid, fully realized performances. Every aspect of their relationship that needs to be there is there, from the frustrated desire to the near-complete absence of anything in common aside from heterosexuality. These are two actors who play flawlessly off each other and alone when necessary, and this is acting that fits the material perfectly.
However, there are several moments—primarily in the scene changes—where director Lee Lewis' staging is jarringly awkward. Especially considering that nothing needs to be moved and no costume changes are taking place, there seems no need for such lengthy scene changes. Also, and this may be an accident of where I happened to be sitting, but for large stretches of the play there is a floodlight shining right in the audience's eyes. The one good thing about those awkward scene changes is that the light is dimmed slightly.
In any case, there is enough about Reasonable Doubt that is well-done and entertaining to make an enjoyable evening at the theater.