Ashley Griffin’s Trial. Where do I begin? I recently had the privilege of catching this play in its limited run workshop at the American Theater of Actors, which succeeded readings done at Manhattan Theater Club and The Red Fern Theater Company. Like Griffin’s other plays, Trial lives off an extra helping of suspension of disbelief, but in turn delivers an intense and inimitable theatergoing experience.
Trial is set in the judicial department of the afterlife. In this world, when the eternal placement of one’s soul is in question, they are held in trial arbitrated by the person to whom they did the most harm in life. To call this scenario bureaucratic hell would be redundant if it weren’t slightly erroneous: The protagonist, Arcadia Evans, commits suicide at the age of 15 from being abused physically, emotionally, and sexually by her father, Richard. After waiting in the celestial room for twelve years, Richard finally dies, and Arcadia’s status quo in the celestial waiting room ends when she is chosen to be judge and jury at a trial determining his salvation or damnation.
The guilt of Richard’s abuse and of it indirectly causing Arcadia’s death is open-and-shut and quickly determined, but the matter of the suicide itself (and subsequently Richard’s fate) remains in question. As the forces of good and evil fight tooth and nail for the soul of the defendant, the line between the two is both blurred and elucidated, and so the plot thickens. The play explores the externalities of Arcadia’s suicide from beyond the grave with enough perspective to make Kant turn over in his grave (given the play’s setting, he really might have). Trial tells us that the quality of mercy is not strained, but more importantly, mercy is twice blessed.
There is, I believe, ample evidence already of Ashley Griffin’s consummate storytelling abilities. She has exhibited appreciable talent for all creative aspects of theatrical work, namely writing, directing, and acting. What strikes me as most prominent, though, is her ability to create worlds. Owing to a rich heritage of stories past and present, Griffin’s work reflects the best elements of storytellers past and combines them in her own style. Just enough detail for the imaginations of her audience to take over.