Origin Theatre Company’s stark production of Kees Roorda’s A Kid Like Rishi is a totally involving Rashomon-like take on a real-life tragedy: In November of 2012, 17-year-old Rishi Chandrikasing, a young man of Indian descent, was shot and killed at a train station in the Hague by a policeman.
Was it a case of racial profiling? A justified shooting? Accidental?
In the English translation by Tom Johnston, Roorda thoroughly examines the event through the testimony of twenty or so witnesses all played by three disparate, but complementary actors: Sung Yun Cho, Atandwa Kani and Kaili Vernoff, all three quietly intense.
The cell theatre’s well-known flexibility was put to good use by the scenic designer Guy de Lancey who placed the audience on four sides of a long wooden table around and upon which the actors performed Koorda’s sad docudrama.
Rishi begins with recordings of the original emergency police dispatch calls played with translations appearing on several well-placed screens (and also in the program notes). Then Cho, seated at the farthest end of the long table, recites the Judge’s serpentine summation of the events ending with the acquittal of the cop who shot Rishi, a decision not received well by the people of the Netherlands, making it the cause célèbre that eventually led to this dramatization.
The last thing the audience hears is Rishi’s Mom’s belated eulogy for her lost teenaged son. Acted with infinite tenderness by Kani, this long monologue is a compassionately human summation of why Rishi’s life (and death) mattered.
Sandwiched between these two extremes—coolly official and beautifully empathetic—are the statements of multiple characters, from actual eye witnesses to forensic scientists.
The whole chain of events started when an older homeless man was refused money by Rishi. This man then left the train platform and reported that Rishi had threatened him with a gun. Before the police arrived to verify his account, this anonymous person disappeared, leaving tragedy behind, all in the name of petty revenge.
The Engineer of a train pulling into the station was sick and tired of all the death he had seen and, refusing to testify, washed his hands of the matter wanting only to go home.
A Journalist (a wonderfully ironic Vernoff) spends more time defending her journalistic integrity—which appears to be zero—rather than delivering just the facts.
An Old Man (Cho) angrily spouts that he knows that Rishi was killed because of the color of his skin claiming that this would not have happened to a white person.
The Police Shooter’s version of the events is filled with fear, self-serving evasions and outright lies—at least according to the few eye witnesses. Even so, as acted by Kani you are forced to face his humanness and kind of believe that he acted out of simple human fear and not racial profiling.
The Emergency Medical Responders describe Rishi’s mortal neck and head wounds and how they worked hard and long to keep him alive, to no avail. Their testimony went against the Shooter’s claim that he aimed for Rishi’s legs.
Two Medical Examiners coldly go down a long list of drugs, presence of which in Rishi’s body would surely make him appear guilty: cocaine (negative), methadone (negative), amphetamine (negative), MDMA/MDAF (negative), lorazepam (negative), but morphine and lidocaine both positive. All this technological jargon came just before and in stark contrast to the Mother’s closing speech which pretty much wipes out all that came before it, making A Kid Like Rishi more than reportage.
Claire Fleury is credited with “clothing” and not costumes. This is accurate. The three performers each wore street clothes: Kani in jeans, Cho—the chicest—in a fashionable blouse, pants and boots and Vernoff in an odd—and unflattering—version of a drab pinafore. After a while these choices somehow either seemed right or just didn’t matter.
Fan Zhang’s brilliant sound design and touches of music added aural dimensions to the words and the equally brilliant lighting which doesn’t seem to have a design credit, but might be by Guy De Lancey, created moods and performance areas. If the lighting is, indeed, his creation, he is to be congratulated.
Director Erwin Maas helped to make what on the surface is just a series of speeches jell into a theatrical experience.
A Kid Like Rishi (through June 19, 2022)
Origin Theatre Company
the cell theatre, 338 West 23rd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.origintheatre.org
Running time: 80 minutes without an intermission