Prima Facie may be used as an adjective meaning "sufficient to establish a fact or raise a presumption unless disproved or rebutted." In the play Prima Facie that describes the way Lawyer Tessa wins or losses in law - and she nearly always wins. Jody Comer is Tessa in this one hander, and she is astounding in her Broadway debut.
Prima Facie works so well because Jodie Comer is a dynamo. She jumps enthusiastically. She moves tables and pull volumes off the shelves manically as she explains her profession and how much she loves it. She can disassemble the testimony of victims of sexual assault to get her clients off. And to Tessa this is not complicated. Her job is to defend clients and she is good at it. Great at it. She believes in the law and believes every defendant deserves an active defense. Tessa does sound a bit defensive about this, although she actively ignores the consequences.
Tessa hails from Liverpool and has no desire to return. She has a disassociated relationship with her family and her hometown. She doesn’t want to belong to either. Tessa justifies her singleminded focus to become a lawyer and how she had to fight to be accepted. As a woman from a lower-class background, Tessa must struggle against stereotypes and richer classmates in order to succeed. And now that Tessa has succeeded, she savors it.
After a great success in the courtroom, followed by drinking at a local bar, she goes back to the chambers with another lawyer. He is a man from the same firm, and they proceed to flirt and then have great sex. They go out again a few nights later. After more than a few drinks, she invites him to the her house where they screw again - making love is not the right word for the relationship they have. The night of drinking and sex ends up where it often does for us mortals, head over the toilet, puking her guts out. Her date helps her through this and then carries her to bed. Where he proceeds to try to make love again, which Tessa objects to. But he forces himself on her.
It is date rape clearly and she struggles with how to react. After weighing the effect of her next actions, she must choose between ignoring this or pressing charges against a man she willingly slept with, twice. Ultimately, she presses charges and the case goes to trial. Tessa naively believes in the integrity of the system and knows she will win the case, because the rape obviously happened.
But she doesn’t win. In fact, the very tactics she has used against accusers is used against her. And, although Tessa knows what is happening, she cannot help but to fall into the same traps she expounded on earlier. Tessa responds the turnabout with outrage. Anger at the system she has used for so long. And anger directed at the defense by using law and doubt to thwart justice.
Jodie Comer truly brings out Tessa’s disappointment and heartbreak in the role. Tessa the lawyer shrinks as she becomes Tessa the victim. To visually underline this change, the creative team uses lighting and the noise of a nervous heartbeat to effectively bring more than just her voice to the fore. Not just does Tessa’s demeanor change, her visage changes as time progresses. Her blond hair, free and full early moves to a wet brown pulled into a tight bun mimicking her journey into self-doubt and insecurity. It is fantastic.
Having sung her praises, I must say last few minutes of the Prima Facie drag. Tessa goes on a rant that essentially covers in words what happened to her on stage. It is an unnecessary coda to a near perfect show.
Playwright: Suzie Miller | Director: Justin Martin | Set and Costume Design: Miriam Buether | Cast: Jodie Comer