Tuesday, May 5, 2015

F.X. Feeney on 'American Crime' Created by '12 Years A Slave' Writer John Ridley

AMERICAN CRIME! ... I've been going on so much about Orson Welles this week that I'd like to catch my breath a moment and celebrate this outstanding prime time show created by John Ridley, screenwriter of "12 YEARS A SLAVE." The American Cinematheque is celebrating it Wednesday evening May 6th at the Aero Theatre.That also happens to be the hundredth anniversary of Orson Welles's birth. Since I'm joining in celebrations of THAT blessed event every other night of this coming week, I don't feel disloyal spending that particular evening at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, watching excerpts from AMERICAN CRIME in tandem with a panel discussion between Ridley and his principal cast. If anything the anniversary and the occasion are a good fit because this isn't "television," it's Long Form Cinema such as the most dedicated Cineastes have come to expect after the past 15 years of revolutions perpetrated at HBO, Showtime, A&E and Starz.

What's new and unique about AMERICAN CRIME is that it accomplishes this excellence on a mainstream network, without a jot of compromise anywhere in evidence. Timothy Hutton has a moment, early in the first show, when his character is led into a morgue to identify the body of his murdered son. Despite that he is "ready" his gasp of recognition and sorrow is so eloquent, no words are needed. His reaction sets everything to come on its feet. It's a great dramatist who provides such a moment for an actor to complete. Ridley does the same for Felicity Huffman. Time and again her very driven, very controlled and controlling mother-in-grief must confront, as if in a self-torture chamber, exactly how out-of-control her torrents of angry, righteous, well-meant words are causing things to become.

The man accused of their son's murder -- Elvis Nolasco -- communicates with his whole body that he is innocent that particular crime. Yet in the same breath he reveals a man content to navigate a world in which he is guilty of so much else, because paradoxically that's the only world he can inhabit with the woman he loves. Richard Cabral by contrast communicates danger in every flash of his eyes -- for many episodes I've just assumed, "he's the killer," though (courtesy of Ridley's design) I've lately been sucker-punched out of that comfortable assumption, not just by developments in the story but by the depth of tender pride that Cabral reveals in this man when he first meets his baby daughter. At the opposite end of this lethal universe is the other suffering mother, played by Penelope Ann Miller: She struggles to surrender her outrage; to live in the moment; to help her comatose daughter survive a brutal attack she (and through her, we) can only imagine and re-imagine in ever new and worse ways as new information so relentlessly emerges.

THESE are the talents joining John Ridley onstage at the Aero Theatre, Wednesday night, May 6, 2015, and I can't wait to listen to them.

-- F.X. Feeney

For tickets, details, click here.