Defamation

“I’m black,” Regina Wade said. “When something’s missing we’re always suspect. Everyone is born into a situation and being born black is quite a situation.”

Regina is either the protagonist or antagonist of Todd Logan’s “Defamation,” a modern courtroom drama where the audience decides the verdict. The work explores racial, religious, and class tensions as Regina, a South Side African-American woman, sues Arthur Golden, a wealthy, North Side Jewish man for defamation.

“We live in a world with racial, class, and religious divides,” said Logan. “I wanted to write something that would make people think about these issues. When most people go to bed at night, it’s in a segregated town, community, or neighborhood. What does it say about ourselves, about where we go to bed at night?”

In the play, Golden accuses Wade of stealing his family heirloom watch during a business meeting. The two were hoping to do business together, as Wade is the owner of a law consulting firm and Golden is the owner of a theatre company in need of her services. Golden questions Wade about the watch and after not finding it, he contacts a mutual business partner and recommends they conclude their business with her. Golden has no proof, but the company ends their partnership with Wade, causing her business massive financial damage.

In a heated back and forth between attorneys, Wade, and Golden, the audience must decide whose story to believe. Is Golden racist? Is Wade just trying to find cash to keep her business afloat? Is there enough evidence?

“I thought it was fascinating,” said Laura Dean Friedrich, executive director of Protestants for the Common Good, the non-profit that hosted the event held at the Chicago Theological Seminary. “In Chicago, the issues around race and class are so intense. This is an opportunity to think about the issues.”

The verdict, as decided by the shaken, red-eyed audience, favored Wade 39 to 12. In all 64 productions of the show to date, Golden has won 7 times and always in predominantly white high schools. The show has also been performed for the Illinois Bar Association and the Decalogue Society of Lawyers, both favoring Wade.

In a bold play, Logan tackles issues considered taboo or of the past. He invites the audience to think beyond the stage and into the real world. What does it mean to be white or black? Jew or Christian? Rich or poor?

“You treat them not like a black, a Jew, a Muslim,” Golden offers as a defense. “You treat them like a person.” Can his plea override his actions?