Based on a true story, “Carolyn Bryant” follows Carolyn Bryant as she seeks to prove her innocence of a criminal charge that ultimately lasted more than 30 years. Written by Howie Z. Seifert, with Kevin Depinet’s adroit direction, this ambitious play is a tribute to one public servant who failed in a system designed to sustain, often abuse, and sadly, silence all those fighting for their justice.
The main story is about a Philadelphia woman who worked in a New York City police precinct for nearly 20 years until she was arrested on a charge of murder at the same time her son was killed on her watch. Her famous lawsuit and battle to prove her innocence of any wrong doing are dramatized by this fantastic story.
But the play is far more than a courtroom drama. There are several playwrights-in-residence, one of whom is writer Eugene Lee, and their narratives speak on multiple levels about race, social and class structures, and what it means to fight for justice while ensuring justice is seen and heard. The play highlights the sacrifices of Bryant on behalf of her family. There are also the stories of other characters like Robert Randolph, who, after four years in prison and four more months before he died, was exonerated of the murder he did not commit. The play also focuses on the #MeToo movement and issues of justice and privilege, with the text acknowledging the indignities of how wrongly convicted prisoners endure while advocates like Bryant fought to have them released, and the savagery of the law’s unwavering power.
As Bryant continues to fight her case and try to help others who may be on the wrong side of the law, things intensify. More interrogation rooms, more interrogations with useless DNA, and the asking of questions that never even get answered begin to dominate Bryant’s life — if she has any left.
But as the play takes Bryant from Philadelphia to New York City to the set of “America’s Got Talent,” from publicly pleading with the creators of the show, New York, to let her in, to challenges she faces on a smaller scale, the play’s real strength is Bryant’s resilience and ability to not let the world “bully” her.
This was clear in my experience on Sunday night in Williamsburg, New York, when I saw “Carolyn Bryant.” Seifert and Depinet have produced a play that celebrates the power of women in our society, both as victims and activists. It celebrates the strength of people whose lives can never be righted as they fight for justice. It shows that one person can make a difference. And best of all, we all see the results.