Spotlight: Coyote on a Fence

This thoughtful and understatedly powerful regional premiere revolves around death row inmate John Brennan (Bob Malos) and his new next-door neighbor on the cellblock, Bobby Reyburn (Matt Erkel). John is the editor of a prison newspaper that makes a habit of glossing over subjects' past transgressions while compiling their post-execution obits. Bobby, for his part, is a half-wit racist prone to white-power clichés who has committed a crime of particularly vivid heinousness. Scott Eric Gilbert's set is spare to the point of austerity, with a paradoxical void between the two prisoner's cots--the wall between them exists only in the imagination. And director Sarah Gioia finds both the gallows humor and the ambiguity in Bruce Graham's script. Malos in particular masticates the dual nature of his benevolent but entirely self-serving character. And Erkel is painfully open as a man without a coherent grasp of consequences--or much of anything for that matter. Mediating things are prison guard Shawna DuChamps (Kathleen A. Hardy) and reporter Sam Fried (Reid Knuttila). An interesting twist emerges when John begins to enjoy his status as a celebrity on the outside perhaps a bit too much--a brief, shocking flash is provided when Shawna is obliged to put him in his place. Although the action is limited to the prison and a bar table, where Shawna gets walleyed while talking to an unseen reporter, the themes tack toward the world of freedom and life. We are ultimately provided with nothing remotely resembling a happy ending, though we receive an accomplished take on capital punishment and its circle of death.