The acting in "Outrage" is broad and histrionic, the sentiment mawkish, the rhetoric agitprop. Anyone who's spent much time in a courtroom can vouch for its authenticity.
Beyond this, Henry Denker has written a play of ideas -- suited up as human beings. As such things go, it's an effective piece of work, even though it lacks real people and a story. It's a polemic on the individual and society, in the tradition of morality plays.
The proceedings -- at the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater -- take place on a set by John Falabella that catches a courtroom perfectly, down to the leather-padded doors. They concern the case of one Dennis Riordan, on trial for killing the man who raped and murdered his daughter.
The miscreant was set free on a legal technicality; Riordan has confessed to the deed before his trial starts. "I want everybody to know that I did what I did because the law wouldn't," the gray-haired gent tells his defense counsel, a young firebrand in a three- piece suit. "Look, kid, I don't want to go to prison, but I will if I have to."
The audience -- no surprise -- is the jury.
Denker, a lawyer-turned-playwright, has filled "Outrage" with telling details of trial procedure, engaging discussions of the exclusionary rule and even some snappy lines to lighten the polemical load. Aside from the legal system, the villain of the piece is a persistent literary agent who wants the rights to Riordan's story. "You want to pay me half a million dollars for killing a man?" Riordan marvels, and the agent shrugs, "Well, that's the way it is in publishing these days."
As the put-upon defendant, Michael Higgins is suitably plain and hangdog, but possesses none of the spunk you'd expect from such a character. Peter Evans, for the defense, alternately evokes Charles Laughton in "Witness for the Prosection" -- but only when he chews his antacid tablets -- and Al Pacino in "Justice for All," especially when shouting at the judge. His opposite number, a black prosecutor played by Kene Holliday, is sober as his watch fob.
Alan Hewitt, as the jurist who freed the criminal (he looks and sounds like Frederic March in "Inherit the Wind"), projects cartoony arrogance when required to take the stand. But the performance of Ralph Bell as the harried trial judge is the only one that suggests there is life outside the court. OUTRAGE -- At the Eisenhower through January 15.