Rewind. Fast-forward. Pause.
When we can’t control life the way we can control a movie, it can feel all-too-out of control. For Amina, that lack of control snowballs into powerful intersectionality. She is a black police officer in Cleveland, Ohio, and her boyfriend, Ryan, is a white officer on the same force. Their relationship is a testament to the love of their work and each other. Until an all-too-familiar story emerges from their department: a white officer shoots a young black man.
Suddenly everything Amina believes to be true is in flux. Leslie Ann Sheppard’s dynamic performance as the young officer is jaw-dropping. She and Drew Schad (Ryan) are on stage for nearly the entire runtime, igniting the intimate space at Theater Wit. Sheppard is everything a director could want for such a demanding role. We ache as she does. We burn as she blazes through the mystery. We recoil as projections of officer-involved shootings appear, blazoned onto the set and into the minds of audience members.
“Sheepdog” is a show for Chicago, a play that shows us the ugly truth of the world in no uncertain terms. It’s a show that speaks truth to power in an age when power rarely speaks the truth. Luckily Chicago has directors like Wardell Julius Clark, who not only proudly raise those truths up but specialize in doing so. Clark’s work has shown us time and again how to evoke powerful sentiment between two people while never minimizing the messages of the show. Unlike Sydney Lynne Thomas’ brilliant scenic design, these characters can’t get away with compartmentalizing.
Kevin Artigue’s play highlights the “Sheepdog Mindset” popularized by Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman, the seemingly innocuous metaphor that takes on a dangerous precedent. When we categorize human beings into subhuman categories, we delegitimize their personhood. Artigue takes Grossman’s assertion to the mat, just as history has done each and every time a group of people are othered.
I suppose “sheepdog” is a more charming analogy for officers than the long association of “pigs.” But each metaphor offers less humanity to people who are supposed to protect other people. So until the larger conversation moves away from reductive analogies, the theater will herd the conversation onward with “Sheepdog.” (Amanda Finn)
Shattered Globe Theatre at Theater Wit, 1229 West Belmont, (773)975-8150, sgtheatre.org, $15-$42. Through February 29.