OTC’s “Sheepdog” Powerfully Investigates Love and Fear
Oldcastle Theatre Company opens the most urgent play of the summer just in the nick of time with “Sheepdog” by Kevin Artigue superbly directed by Kirk Jackson with phenomenal performances by Ravin Patterson and Michael Patrick Trimm. The thrilling play receiving its Regional Premiere is frequently telling you what time it is as it leaps back and forth over the course of a relationship and finally freezes a single frame of film to dissect a fatal decision.
The play is a love story between two cops, one white and one Black but it is also a police procedural as Amina (Ravin Patterson in a towering performance) sifts through the evidence of her life spent with Ryan (the charming Michael Patrick Trimm) as she searches for clues into her lover’s attitudes and motivations after he has shot a Black man in the line of duty under questionable circumstances.
The play starts at the end with the murder. Patrons entering the theater must step over the blood-stained chalk outline of the body, which will come back to unnerve you when the details are filled in. Amina is obsessed and haunted by the chalk outline at the top of the play and must discover the cause and justification for the murder. For the play’s taut 85 minutes Patterson will resolutely drive the investigation into the murder and into her love of Ryan as they meet, the first “I love you”s, and move in together.
She also must look at herself and her own motivations as she grew up in the Cleveland neighborhood she now patrols. She describes herself as a line of defense pushing back against the “ugly.”
Her partner, Ryan, is given a most winning performance by Michael Patrick Trimm which is crucial to the play’s stakes. He’s the perfect boyfriend, a provider who enters in an apron who can listen to his girlfriend intensely. He is a catch who does burpees, supports his woman, and serves her wine with a downstage wink.
The tension between them flares up when he is uncomfortable attending a mostly Black wedding with her and especially when he receives a book that gives the play its title. In the book, the name “sheepdog” describes cops who are protecting the sheep (innocent citizens) from the wolves (presumably Black predators) and Amina must wonder whether she is the sheep or a wolf. The arguments and accusations leave plenty of room for you to identify and empathize with both points of view…most uncomfortably. You can see how these troubles would be insurmountable even before the tragic shooting. These scenes hurt.
The action is non-stop and moves across the functional, non-descript, gray platform set designed by Ken Mooney urgently. The story is filled in by two off-stage voices provided by Victoria Benkoski and Enrique Segura.
Officers Amina and Ryan are both shaped by their backgrounds and the years leading up to that fateful moment. Both have strived mightily to escape their upbringing but can’t seem to get any farther without society’s strongest efforts as well.
The mystery is given a last-minute bombshell which may strain your credulity, but you will wholeheartedly fall in love with this couple and grieve for the world which cannot accommodate them. It is a hard, unflinching look at what is required for us to get along. “Sheepdog” is a love story against all odds that can wring you dry from all the hope you will pour into these two damaged souls.
Through 9/4 @ Oldcastle Theatre Company
Tickets: www.oldcastletheatre.org 802-447-0564