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A Kid Like Rishi

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - June 1, 2022

Atandwa Kani
Photo by Rory Duffy
Origin Theatre Company's production of the docudrama A Kid Like Rishi, opening tonight at the cell theatre, takes place in the Netherlands, but the story it tells will be painfully familiar to American audiences. In 2013, Rishi Chandrikasing, a teenager of Suriname-Indian descent, was shot and killed by a police officer at a train station in The Hague. His crime that warranted a death sentence carried out on the spot? Take your pick: being in the wrong place at the wrong time, acting suspiciously, failing to obey an order to halt, or merely existing, another victim of racial profiling and xenophobia.

Running 80 minutes, the production, translated into English by Tom Johnston from a script by Dutch playwright Kees Roorda, a one-time apprentice to director Ivo van Hove, delves into interviews with witnesses, the police, friends and family of Rishi, and others with knowledge of or opinions about the shooting. There is nothing of suspense in any of the proceedings. Indeed, we know within the first minutes that the officer who shot the young man was found to have been following proper guidelines and procedures throughout the incident, and was acquitted of any possible wrongdoing.

Under the taut direction of Erwin Maas and performed by a cast of three, the production is intentionally as devoid of stagecraft as they come. The set design consists of a long table of the sort you might find in a science lab, a couple of microphones, and projected images from security cameras. The audience is seated in an area that extends on all four sides of the table. The actors (Sung Yun Cho, Atandwa Kani, and Kaili Vernoff) play multiple roles, ages and genders. All is very clinical. Your attention to any of the particularities will depend on your own curiosity.

I was particularly intrigued by a statement by the police shooting instructor, the role of the news media, and a post-mortem toxicological report. You may find other points that interest you in this deep dive into the facts, quasi-facts, falsehoods, opinions, claims and counterclaims that surrounded the shooting death of the play's title character, whose own voice is sadly silenced. It is only in the deeply moving final sequence, in which we hear at last from Rishi's mother, that the play finds what has been its missing heart. It is this speech, preceded by a wrenchingly elongated silence before being tenderly performed by Atandwa Kani, that tells us everything we need to know. Rishi's mother's words put to shame all of the legal, political, fact-twisting nonsense and dispenses with it as meaningless claptrap when weighed against her sorrow. The legal system may have been satisfied, but has justice been served?

A Kid Like Rishi
Through July 19, 2022
the cell, 338 W 23rd St., New York, NY
Tickets online and current performance schedule: