Ben Gorman (center), seen with Mark Schuliger and Amy Anderson, plays an accountant who ends up behind bars in the A&B Theatricals production of State of Control (Red Generation Photography)

Though he now teaches humanities at Columbus State, Bill Cook has spent time behind bars. He called on that experience while writing his latest play, State of Control, the story of a man who blunders his way into a prison cell.
Speaking about the play last week, Cook explained that his own prison experience was as an employee, not an inmate.
“I worked at the Franklin County jail back in the ’70s,” said Cook, 62. “I sold candies and so on to prisoners from the commissary. I would take it up on the various floors and pass it through the bars.”
While he was not serving a sentence, Cook remembers the sensation of being trapped after passing through two locked doors in order to do his work. “I got this odd feeling I was locked into my job.”
Directed by Matt Hermes and presented by Cook’s own troupe, A&B Theatricals, State of Control begins a two-week run on Friday. At the center of the tale is Stan (played by Ben Gorman), an accountant who becomes the fall guy for an embezzlement scheme and pays for it with a prison sentence.
In the playwright’s eyes, being imprisoned is the average American’s greatest fear, surpassing even cancer.
“It’s not merely because of the time it takes out of your life but because of the consequences of having been in prison,” Cook said. “It’s a very hard thing to recover from because your ex-con (status) stains you for life.”
Like his earlier plays Love in an Age of Clamor (2012) and The Promised Land (March 2013), State of Control has a dreamlike quality that means the normal rules of reality don’t quite apply. All the same, Cook hopes the play will encourage people to think about a situation that’s all too real.
“Here in the United States, we incarcerate more people than anywhere else in the industrialized world,” he said.
Cook attributed that statistic to efforts such as the “war on drugs” that make citizens think society is “doing something about crime.” But the actual result, he charged, is that poor people get run over by the system because they can’t afford proper legal representation. Even those who are innocent may be pushed into accepting plea deals that put them behind bars because the alternative is going to trial and risking a much longer sentence, Cook said.
“So I think our current system is wracked with injustice,” he said. “I think sometimes in their zeal to rack up as many convictions as possible and to have a good track record to run on, prosecutors and judges who are tough on crime (are) really tough on justice.”
Cook theorized that middle-class Americans tolerate this situation because they believe that if they ever got in a legal jam, they could afford a lawyer good enough to get them out of it. He expressed hope that, by writing a play in which an average American finds himself up a legal creek without a good lawyer to paddle him to safety, he’ll help viewers put themselves in the shoes of those who are less fortunate.
“If everyone was in the position of the poor and indigent, where they knew they had ineffective counsel, I think we would have a general outcry,” Cook said.
A&B Theatricals will present State of Control from Friday through Oct. 6 at the Columbus Performing Arts Center, 549 Franklin Ave. Show times are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, plus 8 p.m. next Thursday. Tickets are $25 in advance ( or “pay what you want” at the door. 614-441-2929 or