In ‘Seventy IV Seconds…to judgement,’ Kash Goins gets inside the mind of a jury

Kash Goins of GoKash OnSTAGE is landing at the Arden for two seasons of provocative shows. (Photo courtesy of the artist.)

For Philadelphia actor, playwright, and director Kash Goins, the process of writing a new play begins in his mind long before he starts to put down words. In the case of his new play, Seventy IV Seconds…to judgement, opening on the Arden’s Arcadia stage this week, he’s been watching the narrative of what he calls “justifiable homicide,” which frames his new drama, grow over the last four years.

Founded in 2008, GoKash OnSTAGE (previously GoKash Productions) focuses on stories through the “lens of the contemporary African-American experience.” It produces original works, including artistic director Goins’s own; classics from playwrights like August Wilson, Suzan-Lori Parks, and Arthur Miller; and new works from playwrights based in Philly and New York. GoKash kicks off a two-year residency at the Arden with Seventy IV Seconds, part of the playwright’s ongoing justice series.

In the seat of a murder victim — and the jury

The catalyst that moved Goins to pen the play was the murder of Philando Castile by police officer Jeronimo Yanez in July 2016 — specifically the live Facebook video that Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, filmed immediately following the shooting — helped Goins to frame his story.

“With Philando’s murder, it moved me differently than some of the other stories we’ve heard about because of the live aftermath of watching it,” Goins explains. “We were there, seeing the officer raging and screaming. It put me, my wife, and my children in those seats. I couldn’t help but imagine myself in that situation.”

As Goins reflected on Castile’s murder, the question that came to his mind was what ideas two strangers bring with them into a short encounter that could lead to a split-second decision to murder — ultimately, to erase one of those human beings' histories.

Goins also decided not only to imagine this tragedy from the victim’s perspective but also to put himself inside the minds of the jury members who deliberated on Yanez’s trial (he was found not guilty on all counts). “I like to look at life through the perspective of the other person,” Goins says. “Everything that I’ve learned in my life has come from listening, observing, and asking questions. I want to know what goes on in a jury that comes to that decision?”

Goins hopes that the audiences who experience Seventy IV Seconds…to judgement (directed by Amina Robinson) will be forced to ask themselves those same questions — and he hopes that they will be interested enough after seeing the play to keep engaging in dialogue about Castile’s story and ongoing issues of class, race, fear, and “justifiable homicide.”

Partnering with the Arden

Arden audiences are already familiar with Goins onstage: he appeared in 2013’s A Raisin in the Sun and last year’s Two Trains Running. For those new to his work as a playwright and director, there will be more opportunities to get to know his voice. The next show in the GoKash residency, V to X, will open in April 2018 at the Selma M. and Robert J. Horan Studio Theatre. The play, a prequel to Goins’s award-winning VI Degrees, explores the prison-industrial system.

Goins is grateful for this opportunity and the support of Arden artistic director Terry Nolan. “I consider the Arden to be the preeminent theater company in our region.  They have been inspiring me from the beginning of my journey, initially from afar, and very recently I’ve been blessed to learn and participate from front and center,” he says. “It's a perfect marriage, and one that I am grateful for."

GoKash OnSTAGE’s Seventy IV Seconds…to judgement, written and directed by Kash Goins, is running at the Arden (40 N. Second Street, Philadelphia) September 6 through 24.