They met as castmates during a 2001 Freedom Theater production of Sparkle, a musical adaptation of the 1976 film about the formation and dissolution of a Supremes-like girl group in the late 1950s and early ’60s.
Kash Goins, now an award-winning Philadelphia playwright, was a member of the ensemble. Amina Robinson — noted actress, writer, director and Temple adjunct professor — played the lead role of Sparkle.
Many television shows, movies, and theater productions later, Goins, 45, and Robinson, 40, are combining their talents for 74 Seconds... to Judgment, running Jan. 17-March 3 at the Arden Theater. Written by Goins, directed by Robinson, 74 Seconds follows a jury of six that has been deadlocked for more than a week, grappling with the concept of “justifiable homicide" in a police-involved shooting.
Goins, a resident artist at the Arden, said he was moved to write 74 Seconds to explore a too-common pattern in which black people, often young men, die at the hands of law enforcement without prosecution or penalty for the police officers involved.
“I didn’t want to write my rage,” Goins said, moving his right hand to cover his heart. “Naturally, I’m an inquisitive person. So I began to ask, ‘Why does this keep happening?’ How can Tamir Rice get two seconds before he’s killed [by police]? Those questions weighed on me, and I wanted to cast them out through the work." Goins said he named the play after the time it took for St. Anthony, Minn., police officer Jeronimo Yanez to pull over Philando Castile, an encounter that, within 74 seconds, led to Castile’s death.
After bumping into Robinson at a play, Goins invited her to direct 74 Seconds, and she eagerly agreed.
Why eagerly? "Because I knew Kash and I trusted Kash,” Robinson said. “I had already signed on to do it before the show was even finished. He still had 30 pages to write.”
Robinson said she was impressed with Goins' work and has made an effort to support his shows.
“When I saw 6 Degrees [by Goins], I thought, 'Yo! Kash has cultivated this huge audience of black folks who want great theater that they may not have a lot of access to," Robinson said. “It wasn’t until I read the script [of 74 Seconds] that I realized there was something really important here.”
In fall 2017, Goins premiered 74 Seconds at Arden through his production company, GoKash. He said this year’s production was a thorough redevelopment of the original. “We spent time pulling apart the script, every line. We challenged everything and made the play what it is now,” he said.
Both natives of South Philly’s Point Breeze, Goins and Robinson stressed their efforts to connect the play to the community. Each performance will be followed by a 15-minute audience discussion centered on the show’s depiction of police brutality in black communities.
Robinson said a hearty post-performance discussion, either formally after the show or informally among playgoers, is what makes theater special. “I think good plays are entertaining. I think great plays leave you with a full experience, loaded with questions and the possibility of a new perspective on life,” Robinson said. “I can go to a show and be highly entertained, but if I’m not talking about it afterwards, I don’t know that that’s greatness. I think greatness questions our assumptions. If you’re going to be great, you have to be able to transform someone.”
Robinson believes 74 Seconds holds a mirror up to American society by examining the racial and class bias implicit in much of what we take for granted. “It forces people to examine what’s going on inside of them,” she said.
Last week, she led the cast in “a very particular character exploration to find ... the different lines of allegiance.” They’re working on blocking now. She said the show is in a really good place and will head into tech strong.
Goins said he’s well aware of his good fortune. “So many playwrights spend years creating work,” he said. “They hope to get some actors together to hear their words. They dream about getting produced.” And here he’s about to live that dream, not once, but twice with different versions of 74 Seconds.
Audience members, Goins said, should expect the unexpected.
“I like the notion that [the audience feels it] can predict where the plot is going, and then it doesn’t do that," Goins said. “You don’t get the chance to check out. You have to stay engaged.”