Multi-award winning Pacific Resident Theatre in Venice presents THE DOCK BRIEF, a comedy by John Mortimer, as their fourth show of the 2014/2015 season, directed by PRT’s Robert Bailey, featuring PRT founding member Frank Collison as the barrister Morgenhall and Wesley Mann as his imprisoned client Fowle.
For those unfamiliar with the term, a dock brief is a case given directly to a barrister (a lawyer in Britain who has the right to argue in higher courts of law) selected from a panel of those present by a prisoner in the dock who is unable to provide his own counsel. That choice is crucial to his defense and possible freedom, continued incarceration or winding up dead as a door nail.
THE DOCK BRIEF runs 70 minutes without an intermission, focusing on an unsuccessful barrister who has been waiting for years to make a grandstand defense. He is overjoyed when he gets assigned to defend an innocuous little man appropriately named Fowle who is accused of murdering his ever-merry and constantly laughing wife who could not deal with his lack of humor. Finally, the barrister feels he will have his chance to shine, even though his client admits he committed the crime. But why didn’t he just decide to leave her instead? Morgenhall is committed to finding out and putting together a defense that will make his career.
Wesley Mann brilliantly presents Fowle as an inconsequential Cockney man ready to accept his fate when he first meets the barrister he selected when Morgenhall comes to confer with him in his cell just prior to appearing before a judge. Frank Collison plays Morgenhall as a huffy, educated man, overly filled with his own importance and need to succeed. Frank Collins walks in and takes charge, ordering Fowle to first describe his deceased wife so he may better prepare his case by pleading “not guilty.” What he learns about their relationship just confuses Morgenhall even more. Why didn’t Fowle just walk away from the marriage rather than killing her? How can he possibly defend Fowle’s actions?
As the two men banter, Morgenhall dons his robe and wig and has Fowle play the roles of judge, a surprise witness, and several other people who may appear in court. Wesley Mann is a riot as he takes on Fowle portraying all the additional roles, each created as a complete individual from his accent to specific physicality, switching back-and-forth as the attempt to devise a defense is made. As the scene unfolds and the men decide on what is the best route to follow, the question arises as to which of the two men is really the smartest for bringing them together in the first place. The outcome as it unfolds will certainly surprise you!
Given the author John Mortimer was an English barrister, dramatist, and screenwriter, the duo’s dialogue frequently consists of terms which may not be familiar to American audiences. Thankfully PRT included a glossary of terms in the program, which I made sure to read prior to the play beginning. I suggest you do that same as it will greatly help you understand the fast-paced conversations between the two men, all taking place in the confines of Fowle’s tiny cell at breakneck speed. Then you can be prepared to laugh!
THE DOCK BRIEF runs Thursdays – Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm through November 15, 2015. Tickets are $25 to $34. Pacific Resident Theatre, 705 1/2 Venice Blvd. in Venice CA (310) 822-8392 or www.PacificResidentTheatre.com