Prima Facie is an extraordinary play by Suzie Miller that features a stunning performance by Jodie Comer. It is now playing at the Golden Theatre in New York.
The play is about a young barrister who defends men against charges of sexual assault and rape. The barrister is a woman who has risen in that august profession from the lower ranks. The author is British-Australian and the play was first produced in Sydney. In the opening scene she dons her barrister’s gown and wig (in other words, we are in England) and lets us know that she does not come from a private school or from the moneyed class. She is a brilliant woman who made it to Cambridge University and then law. She has a pronounced cockney accent but she drops it later in the play. A barrister is a lawyer whose practice is restricted to working in the courts.
We are impressed but she really wants to impress us. She brags about her ability to break down witnesses and win cases. She is rather childish in her expression of braggadocio and frankly we do not know where this narcissistic woman in a solo performance without an intermission will take us.
We soon get to the guts of the play. She has consensual sex with a senior lawyer in his office. They go out on a date later and he rapes her.
For the lawyer who stands before a judge and jury and argues cases on behalf of accused men the tables are completely turned. She is now a victim of rape and must give evidence against her violator. She becomes the witness that she bragged about being able to manipulate in the opening scene.
British-Australian Suzie Miller was a barrister until she quit to become a fulltime writer. When she writes about lawyers, trials and witnesses she knows whereof she speaks.
Rain falls on the stage and Tessa the barrister is baptized into her real role – a victim rather than a defender of perpetrators.
Comer will give us every detail of the rape of Tessa in horrifying detail and describe the failure of the system to defend women and punish men. It is a system that has evolved over centuries, all of it created by men and without much attention or knowledge of the state of the victims.
Comer has us enthralled with the depth of her emotions, the horror of the event and even more so of trying to communicate it to men. It is almost impossible to do it and statistics illustrate the failure of the system. Comer’s performance left the audience stunned as she described the torture she went through when raped and afterwards when waiting for the trial and while giving evidence that simply did not transmit her pain because such pain cannot be communicated under the current system.
An insert in the program at the Golden Theatre gives some statistics. In the United States, there is a sexual assault every 98 seconds. There are 735,000 reported rapes in the U.S. and that represents only an estimated 19% of all rapes that are reported. Of the cases reported only 5% lead to an arrest. There are more statistics and more horrors.
With a resounding standing ovation, the audience paid homage to Suzie Miller, Jodie Comer and director Justin Martin
Prima Facie by Suzie Miller continues at the Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th Street, New York, N.Y. primafacieplay.com