Right here the topic is sexual assault, however don’t suppose that you simply’re strolling right into a morality play. It is a crime procedural from the within out, the within being the life and profession of a brash London barrister, a working-class lady from England’s North, who’s reached the highest of her occupation by dint of her work ethic and her wits. The twist engineered by Miller, a lawyer herself, issues Comer’s Cambridge-trained Tessa defending males accused of perpetrating sexual violence towards ladies.
Her not-always-admirable superpower is a cutlass-sharp courtroom prowess and understanding that the legal justice system works towards the sufferer. The legislation is her confederate. She cuts holes in ladies’s accounts with the talent of a Savile Row tailor.
Till, in fact, the legislation is her adversary, after an evening by which Tessa’s world collapses, and the entire codes she’s lived by come again to hang-out her. The system now humiliates her, with skepticism and harrowing interrogations and threats to her livelihood, her security, her delight. The distinction between the primary and second halves of the play couldn’t be starker. The delicate display separating savvy high-flyer and bereft sufferer cracks, irrevocably.
I used to be captivated the primary time I noticed Comer carry out this piece final yr, in London’s West Finish. I used to be much more mesmerized the second time. The act is prodigious in each respect. Framed by set and costume designer Miriam Buether’s wall of case-filled binders — illuminated infrequently by Natasha Chivers as in the event that they’re sacred manuscripts — Comer unspools Tessa’s nightmare at breakneck tempo. A manic vitality is clear, a compulsion to narrate the character’s expertise with the precision of a member of London’s Inns of Courtroom.
The efficiency is relentless in the very best sense, a portrayal shifting in accent and persona, as Comer known as on to embody investigating officers, kinfolk, colleagues. Greatest identified for her function as diabolical Russian murderer Villanelle on “Killing Eve,” Comer is a protean presence with a gestural grace and an natural affinity for the stage. You’re beguiled into believing that there’s nothing this actress can’t do.
Miller offers us simply sufficient of an incidental primer on the British authorized system to make us comfy with the way it diverges from U.S. courts; this principally entails greedy the excellence between solicitors and barristers, the latter being the famous person performers earlier than judges. In in style tradition (and for all I do know, in actual life) their ranks are male-dominated and impossibly macho, invested with the mixed egos of coronary heart surgeons and quarterbacks.
The preliminary exhilaration of “Prima Facie” is feeling Comer channel Tessa’s ebullient spirit within the character’s Souse, or Liverpool, cadences, and her success in defying the expectations of these round her. In a scene on the College of Cambridge’s legislation faculty, Tessa is knowledgeable that one in every of each three college students will fail to graduate; the wrong assumption is, resulting from her background, she’ll be that one. That ratio, although, will grow to be anguishingly related in a while, after the tables have turned, and Tessa turns into a statistic in a class she’d been too haughty to think about ever being inducted into.
How apt this topic is for a solo present, although the stage feels abundantly inhabited. The format incisively illustrates a sufferer’s sense of isolation — the loneliness of a reminiscence of violation that may wall one off from everybody else. Nobody actually can share the area the place Tessa’s struggling lives. Rebecca Lucy Taylor’s music, in tandem with the sound design by Ben and Max Ringham, supplies a soundscape rife with the tensions of a life spiraling down and uncontrolled.
I assumed on the primary event I noticed “Prima Facie” that because it galloped towards its gripping conclusion, the impulse to instruct an viewers turned too clear. I didn’t really feel that this time. What Comer’s Tessa has to say about her expertise have to be stated, and repeated and repeated, till the world has modified and “Prima Facie” involves really feel like historical past, and never present occasions.
Prima Facie, by Suzie Miller. Directed by Justin Martin. Set, and costumes, Miriam Buether; lighting, Natasha Chivers; sound, Ben and Max Ringham; music, Rebecca Lucy Taylor; video, Willie Williams. About 100 minutes. At Golden Theatre, 252 W. forty fifth St., New York. primafacieplay.com.