Home #Hwoodtimes Bryan Rasmussen Reveals the Dark Secrets Lurking in The Witness Room

Bryan Rasmussen Reveals the Dark Secrets Lurking in The Witness Room

At the Whitefire Theatre, award-winning playwright Pedro Antonio Garcia gives the audience a spin on a traditional courtroom drama by sticking the audience into The Witness Room.

By John Lavitt

Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 03-26-2024

As the Artistic Director of The Whitefire Theatre, Bryan Rasmussen’s choice to direct the world premiere of Pedro Antonio Garcia’s The Witness Room is not surprising. From the outset, Rasmussen has been dedicated to bringing socially relevant theatre to the independent theatre’s stage for years, and Garcia’s play about cops struggling with the truth of their actions highlights many conflicts of the present day. Indeed, difficulties experienced by the characters become conflicts for the audience as we struggle to navigate the gap between evidence and memory, perception and bias in The Witness Room at The Whitefire Theatre.

Playing every Saturday until the end of April, the play tells the dark drama of four New York City Cops preparing to give testimony at a drug suppression hearing from a recent bust. As the officers work to get their stories straight with the female Assistant District Attorney, questions arise about the gaps between memory and written statements. As each of their stories starts to unravel, both in the witness room and the courtroom, they face compromising questions about racism, guilt, ethics, and the blue wall of silence. As a longtime defense attorney focusing on criminal appellate litigation, playwright Pedro Antonio Garcia compiled aspects of the story from his firsthand experiences.

Talking with The Hollywood Times, the playwright passionately said, “The Witness Room was influenced by the moral quagmire of the criminal justice system. As an attorney, I’ve witnessed… heartbreaking decisions involving family members exerting emotional influence over defendants. During my career, I’ve cross-examined hundreds of corrupt cops while battling psychopathic prosecutors willing to lie. This play explores the ethical dilemmas raised by these cases within the confines of The Witness Room.”

Louie Liberti, Moe Irvin, Tricia Small, Mitch Rosander, Dave Baez In The Witness Room (Photo By Kenny Johnston)

The tight cast stars Tricia Small as the Assistant District Attorney who tries to manage the four NYPD officers: Moe Irvin, Dave Baez, Louie Liberti, and Mitch Rosander. The production team for the play includes Jeff Rack executing the Set Design, Lighting Design by Derrick McDaniel, Sound Design by Mitch Rosander, and Costume Design by Laura Tiefer. Overall, the theatre setting offers an ideal balance between a room where action can happen as tensions build while providing a sense of enclosure and entrapment. In a sense, The Witness Room becomes a cage from which these cops desperately want to escape with their careers intact.

Although the acting verges on airy melodrama in moments, Moe Irvin and Tricia Small’s performances pull the story down to earth. As the African American member of the unit, Moe Irvin immediately gives the impression of being a good man with a dark past. With a family he values and so much to lose, his desire to get through the day in one piece is palpable. Although he loves his partners, he has no desire to jaunt down a destructive path by their sides.

The show’s highlight is Tricia Small’s performance as the Assistant District Attorney. Doing more than holding her own with the boys, she expresses an experienced professional’s power and confidence. Instead of giving in to their proverbial bullshit, she takes control of the room with a sense of authority and knowledge. If she needs to manipulate these strutting peacocks and self-pitying wolves, she will do what is necessary to get the job done. Given that a man wrote the script, seeing such a centralized female character express power and authority is refreshing.

Ever since the pandemic, too many people have become couchaholics. It is time to get off your couch and turn off one more episode of Law & Order. Instead, take a drive to Sherman Oaks on a Saturday night and support some quality independent theatre. Showing up and working hard, these creators deserve nothing less than your attendance and focus. With a focus on getting the tone and pacing right, director Bryan Rasmussen turns the world premiere run of Pedro Antonio Garcia’s The Witness Room into a night to remember.

Pictures Courtesy of Kenny Johnston and The Whitefire Theatre