PSU cop killing

Tough questions, tough answers

Fertile Ground 2021: Lisa Collins' wonderfully revealing "Be Careful What You Ask For" delves into a Portland killing and issues of race

Be Careful What You Ask For opens on a sunbathed backyard deck at the home of a Portland couple. A man (Keith Cable) is reading a newspaper and drinking coffee; a woman (Vana O’Brien) enters holding an iPad. “I love our morning time together,” she says, taking her seat. The morning appears to be the most typical of Portland mornings. But this wonderful and exacting play – written by Lisa Collins, directed by Jennifer Lanier, and opening Monday, Feb. 1, in the online Fertile Ground festival of new works – isn’t content being content. Something is not well, and that something is America.


ONLINE FESTIVAL: FERTILE GROUND 2021


The action of the play—essentially a conversation between a married couple—consists of a man and woman trying to articulate what is wrong with the country. The woman, Karen, wants to make the world a better place. Her husband, Jerome, wonders if the world hasn’t done enough for him. At first, the couple struggle to identify the source of their unease. Karen’s goals are vague. “Too many people are dying,” she says. “I want to help.” But she doesn’t say which people are dying, or how she might help. Jerome, meanwhile, acts like he would rather avoid the conversation altogether, and he blames his wife’s surge of altruism on her recent retirement.

About two-thirds of the way into the play, the world comes crashing into their picturesque backyard—or at least, real-life events are discussed. Karen brings up the death of Jason Erik Washington, a Black man who was killed by Portland State University officers in 2018. We realize that this—the disproportionate use of lethal violence wielded against Black Americans by police—is the direction the conversation was headed all along.

Keith Cable and Vana O’Brien in “Be Careful What You Ask For.” Photo: Lisa Collins

Continues…