Review: Hub Theatre Company of Boston performs a powerful production of Bruce Graham’s ‘Coyote on a Fence’

Angelica Potter 

OnStage Massachusetts Columnist

Intensely written by Bruce Graham and inspired by actual events, ‘Coyote on a Fence’ tells the story of two men living on death row. Bobby Rayburn is an illiterate member of the Aryan Brotherhood, who committed a horrendous crime, yet feels no remorse. John Brennan is a college educated, conceited writer who believes he’ll one day win an appeal. This provocative play delves into the themes of racism, morality, crime and punishment. All while asking the audience, what is a life worth?

Daniel Bourque superbly directed the four person cast through the powerful and poignant script. The set, designed by Megan Kineen, featured two jail cells and along with Bourque’s direction, allowed for a realistic, yet intimate performance. The four person cast includes Cameron Gosselin as Bobby Reyburn, Mark Krawczyk as John Brennan, Robert Orzalli as Sam Fried, and Regine Vital as Shawna DuChamps. Each did an excellent job of portraying their characters. As a writer for the New York Times, Sam Fried (Orzalli), interviews John Brennan about his work writing obituaries for prisoners executed and the prison paper he puts out with letters written by death row inmates. Orzalli was inquisitive and candid; his scenes with John (Krawczyk) were tense and fast moving. Vital was sympathetic as prison guard Shawna DuChamps. As Shawna, she was a strong personality who refused to take any lip or mistreatment from the prisoners. She often commented how she’s just doing her job when she watches prisoners being executed, but it was clear by the end that even though she said she didn’t care, she was impacted by their lives and witnessing each death.

Cameron Gosselin and Mark Krawczyk were incredibly strong as Bobby and John. Watching how their characters clashed in their scenes together was riveting. Even though they were mere feet from the audience, they never faltered from the scene they were in and the character they were portraying. They were rooted in the way their characters thought, spoke, and reacted to others. Their accents and mannerisms were realistic and believable. As Bobby, Gosselin was creepily calm for a guy who was in solitary for over six years and was eventually going to die for his crime. He was set in his ways and beliefs and no one was going to change what he believed to be true. As John, Krawczyk was arrogant and quick-tempered. He firmly believes Bobby to be insane and doesn’t understand why he refuses to fight for his life. Both inmates were similarly damaged by the circumstances that led to their incarceration. Yet, John refused to give into the system and fought hard his whole time there; thinking he might actually win one of his appeals and be released. Whereas, Bobby knew his fate was sealed by what he did and he had accepted the fact that he would never again be a free man.

John spoke one of the strongest lines in the play as he described Bobby’s personality: that the only person who showed him love, also taught him to hate. Another impactful moment came from Bobby, when he told John, reassuring him in a way, for the crime he was convicted of, that predators deserve to die. Each of these phrases is a strong representation of who Bobby was and what he believed. Interestingly enough they represent the circumstances and beliefs of people around the world today. Some are taught to hate others. There are those who believe, like Bobby, that predators who wind up murdered, deserved to die.    

This play, though first produced almost twenty years ago, is still relevant in our American society today. Capital punishment continues to be a hot button issue. From this play we are forced to consider what a life is worth, who truly deserves to die for their crimes, and how do we make that decision. The themes of punishment, justice, morality, race and the greater good prevalent throughout this play will get audiences thinking and conversations started.© Many audience members were overheard after the production saying how well done the production was and that it was one of the best plays they’ve seen in a while.

Due to strong language and subject matter this play is best suited for a mature audience. ‘Coyote on the Fence’ is being performed through April 15th at First Church Boston located at 66 Marlborough Street, Boston, MA.  For more information and tickets visit Tickets for all shows are set as “pay-what-you-can”.

Photo: Cameron Gosselin and Mark Krawczyk. Courtesy Hub Theatre Company of Boston.

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