‘Prima Facie’ Review: ‘Killing Eve’ Star Jodie Comer In Tour De Force Broadway Debut

Killing Eve star Jodie Comer claims Broadway as her own in her tour de force performance of Prima Facie, a scalding indictment of the law and its limits opening tonight at the Golden Theatre.

Comer plays Tessa, a young, working class Liverpool woman who has become one of London’s most promising defense lawyers through sheer intelligence and needle-sharp courtroom instincts. Her specialty – perhaps, or perhaps not, foisted upon her by the cynical male superiors who run things in ways Tessa only slowly comprehends – is the defense of men charged with sexual assault.

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Tessa’s outwardly compassionate, woman-to-woman cross-examinations of assault victims are no less effective for their sympathetic overtones, perhaps more so. Her probing questions and geiger-counter instincts for finding the hidden bombs that will blow a victim’s story to smithereens make Tessa an invaluable force in the courtroom.

Throughout the early portion of the play, Comer shows us Tessa’s razor skills as she demonstrates the cross-examination techniques (and narrates their finer points simultaneously). We see her take apart a pompous police detective, and a nervous sexual assault victim. Tessa might have fleeting pangs of guilt for the latter, and unbridled glee at dismantling the former, but for the most part she sees her job as just that – a necessary cog in the machinery of justice, with each player in a courtroom’s dramatics assigned a crucial role to make the system play out as fairly as possible. It’s not a perfect system, she knows, but even when it appears horribly unfair, it’s the best we got.

Tessa’s perceptions change, and her well-assembled world crumbles, in a blink. She’s recently become romantically interested in a coworker, a gentle-demeanored fellow attorney. After a shared late night tryst in the office, the two decide to have a proper date, with food and drinks and maybe, or more likely assuredly, a trip back to Tessa’s apartment for more than a nightcap.

Only something begins to go terribly wrong. As they lay in bed, Tessa begins to feel dizzy and queasy, and is soon vomiting in her bathroom. When the coworker carries her back to bed, and despite her protests (she’s feeling gross and ill and suddenly terrified) the man ignores her pleas, pins her down, covers her mouth and violently, painfully rapes her.

Tessa knows from professional experience what will follow, the questions and the insinuations. Unlike the women she has cross-examined, Tessa knows every hidden trap the law has in wait, and yet even she can’t avoid them. Comer recounts this legal horror step-by-step, letting the audience see the withering of self-confidence and increasing panic as days drag into weeks, months and years between the rape and Tessa’s day in court.

Directed with energy and empathy by Justin Martin (The Crown, The Inheritance, the upcoming Stranger Things: The First Shadow), Comer is rarely still – and when she is, there’s purpose behind it – moving office desks and a chair into any number of configurations and uses. (The set is designed by Miriam Buether, as are Tessa’s costumes – mostly lawyerly attire with the sole exception of a garish rose-pink blouse gifted, poignantly, from Tessa’s working-class Liverpool mom.)

When the play (100 minutes, no intermission) enters its latter half and Tessa’s long-in-coming court date arrives, Prima Facie rarely lets us raise our hopes or even, really, challenges our expectations – most of us have been prepared by too many Law & Order: SVUs. The drama is in how Tessa deals with the crumbling of her ideals and the smashing of her self-delusions, and in how Comer can so vividly, indelibly display both.

Title: Prima Facie
Venue: Broadway’s Golden Theatre
Director: Justin Martin
Playwright: Suzie Miller
Cast: Jodie Comer
Running time: 1 hr 40 min (no intermission)

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