Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Exonerated by Spontaneous Productions

Rating: 11110
I had the pleasure of watching Spontaneous Productions' staging of Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen's "The Exonerated" (directed by Mike Silva) at downtown Boise's Visual Arts Collective museum and I must say that it was a moving experience.
Before I get into the play, i'd just like to mention that the Visual Arts Collective wasn't such a good theater-- the seats were uncomfortable, my neck was strained but at least they had complimentary wine, beer and food. That being said, on to my review...

Exonerated is defined as: freed from any question of guilt; "is absolved from all blame")

It's a true story about six people's experiences on how they were accused, tried, put on death row for crimes they did not commit, and the tragedy (?) of being found innocent and thus subsequently released.

The play was done in the style of a reading; Thirteen actors sitting on stools in a dimly lit room-- reading! They stories of the six lives would be told little by little until you finally understood the whole thing at the very end. Some actors played multiple parts nevertheless the story was still easy to follow as you could definitely 'hear' the shifts in accent/demeanor. There were no fancy sets, special effects or multimedia-- the absence of theatricals just served to highlight how it was so beautifully written.

And beautifully written it was-- the makeshift theater was tomb-like in the hushed and reverent silence. The lady behind me kept whispering 'ohmygod' and you could hear collective gasps from the audience as the tragedies unfolded.

Plus pawikan points for Christian Shiverick who played the death-row inmate Kerry who was convicted of rape and murder in 1976 and was accused of being a homosexual because he worked as a bartender in a gay bar. The news that he was a homo was at death row even before he got there. As a result, he became the bitch of some inmates and the words "good pussy" were carved into his butt. It was carved so deep that it couldn't be removed, not even with surgery and he is reminded of his experience everytime he sees himself in the mirror. He was exonerated in 1999, 23 years later. Twenty three years. Needless to say, his life was destroyed.

Imagine getting hit by these stories-- six times! And what's even more appalling was that these things really happened. To. Real. People.

Another heartwrenching story was Sunny's (portrayed by Buffie Main) who was framed in 1976 and was imprisoned together with her lover. The real criminal gave a written confession 3 years later in 1979 but she was only released in 1992-- thirteen years later. Unfortunately her lover, Jesse Tafero was executed in 1990 in a famously botched execution where the electric chair malfunctioned! Flames started to shoot from his head and they had to electrocute him three times. How's that for cruel punishment.

The play ends with Cherie Buckner-Webb singing a very moving acapella of Amazing Grace. Needless to say, it was a standing ovation.

The Exonerated doesn't preach. It's not cheesy and dripping with moral lessons. It's solid facts (the dialogue was taken from actual court transcripts and interviews) and a very good way to raise awareness about this issue because these exonerated are ordinary people like you and me. Buffie Main's character, Sunny put it very gracefully:

Imagine everything you did between the years of 1976 and 1992.
Now remove all of it.

I left that theater reminded that, hey, life could fuck you and this could easily happen to you.

I rate this somber, thought provoking piece four pawikan points. Plus points for the basket outside the theater where you could put in money to go to the exonerated... so they can pick up what's left of their lives.

I'd like to see this performed in the Philippines. I've visited Munti's death row and I think it would do our country good to have a little discussion and rethink our laws about capital punishment.

Check out another review by RW Online and the SF Weekly.

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