Sacramento’s B Street Theatre is premiering a new show by rising playwright Idris Goodwin. The play addresses tough, societal issues through the story of two brothers who have taken remarkably different paths in life.
The brothers are both musicians. One is a Julliard-trained concert pianist, that’s Eric. The other is a jazz bassist, who converted to Islam and changed his name to Bilal Shabazz. Bilal has written a new piece that Eric is going to premiere, so Bilal demonstrates how the piece should sound as the brothers sing it together.
It’s a joyful scene of brotherly love expressed through music, a high point of the play.
The problem is that these two brothers have to rehearse Bilal’s new opus… in prison. The government has charged him with donating money to jihadist groups with terrorist affiliations, and he is awaiting trial. Bilal insists he’s innocent, and brother Eric tries to cheer him up, while a burly guard with a nightstick stands and listens.
Bilal (teasingly): It was tougher when I was on the outside, but I can still put hands on you!
Eric (humorously) Oh really?
Bilal: Don’t make me get into my stance!
Eric: You talking big game when you got your bodyguard over here.
Bilal: I got nothing to lose, I’m already in jail. Ain’t that right, Wes? No, no, he heard me…”
But Bilal’s legal difficulties grow, and when his trial begins, the play becomes a courtroom drama. The prosecution comes down hard, while the defense argues that Bilal was framed.
Prosecutor: Are you an American?
Defense: You are an American.
Prosecutor: But on the night of your apprehension, you stated that your true alliegance…
Defense: Each of us have multiple allegiances that are in conflict…
Prosecutor: Mr. Shabazz, can you please answer my question…
Defense: Excuse me…
Prosecutor: Mr. Shabazz, did you, or did you not, attack a corrections officer?
Defense: We intend to prove that entrapment occurred here.
The play becomes a probing look at racial profiling, Islamophobia, government entrapment and what loyalty means – and playwright Idris Goodwin is not peddling any pat answers to the gnarly issues he raises.
New York actors Darian Dauchan and Jahi Kearse give fine performances as the brothers, and the original music by Noah Agruss fits in beautifully. But mostly, I was impressed by Goodwin’s script. Every few years, I see a new play, and think “Wow, this project is going to go far.” This is one of those times.
"Bars and Measures" continues at the B Street Theatre through September 27th.