Will A New Play Start A Fire?: Yale Rep's 'Good Faith' And The City's Firefighters Case

Kenny and Karen.jpg

NEW HAVEN — Frank Ricci, a veteran firefighter, was apprehensive when he heard that Yale Repertory Theater was planning a play based on the lawsuit that bore his name — a legal case bitterly fought all the way to the Supreme Court. “But I figured it would be in my best interest to participate,” he said recently, “so at least part of our story could be told.”

He was referring to conversations that form the basis of “Good Faith: Four Chats About Race and the New Haven Fire Department,” which begins performances Feb. 1 at the theater — and may well rekindle debates that divided this city.

Mr. Ricci, a battalion chief and union leader who has been on the New Haven force for 21 years, suspected the play would have a liberal slant, but was untroubled. “In the end,” he said, “we still won the case.”

Courthouse steps.jpg

In 2009, the Supreme Court ruled, in a 5-to-4 decision, that the city violated the civil rights of a group of largely white firefighters, including Mr. Ricci, when it set aside the results of a 2003 exam for promotion in which they had scored highest.

Administrators, including the mayor at the time, John DeStefano Jr., argued they were simply trying to comply with a federal law that views job requirements like promotional tests with suspicion when they disproportionately rule out minority applicants.


After a suggestion by a Yale law professor that the case, and its implications under a Trump administration, could make compelling theater, Yale Rep commissioned the playwright Karen Hartman to write about it for the stage.

Rather than a courtroom drama, she took a documentary theater approach, à la “The Laramie Project,” drawing on interviews with the actual participants in events.