"The Exonerated" runs through Feb. 24 at Theatre Conspiracy in Fort Myers.
Event Details.What: Play: "The Exonerated"
Where: Theatre Conspiracy
Age limit: 18+
IF YOU GO.What: Drama about Death Row inmates wrongfully accused, then set free
When: 8 p.m. Feb. 16, 17, 18, 23, 24; one 2 p.m. matinee on Feb. 19
Where: Foulds Theater at the Lee County Alliance of the Arts complex, 10091
McGregor Boulevard, Fort Myers
Cost: $18; $10 for students
Information: 239-936-3239 or theatreconspiracy.org
Something Else: Some profanity and racial epithets.
Theatre Conspiracy turns its spotlights onto the justice system with their
latest production "The Exonerated." The simple, moving drama examines the
stories of 6 death row prisoners wrongly accused, sentenced to die, imprisoned
and eventually freed. You can't leave the theater un-moved.
"The Exonerated" comes from Erik Jensen and Jessica Blank. The pair interviewed
60 former death row inmates. 6 interviews - 5 men and 1 woman - form the core
of "The Exonerated." A tour of the Off-Broadway production, starring Lynn
Redgrave and Robert Vaughn, played the Naples Philharmonic in March 2004.
Our criminal justice system fares poorly in eyes of "The Exonerated." While the
show sidesteps a debate on the death penalty itself, it strongly condemns a
system where "justice" can be corrupted to the point that an innocent person
The show also treats "the exonerated" like saints. In real life, few of them
were, but it helps the narrow focus of the production. Remember too that death
is an either/or proposition - and that's what "The Exonerated" tries to smash
into audiences: why kill at all when there's the possibility that you're
killing innocent people?
Theatre Conspiracy's production was forced to substitute an actor the day
before opening. Curtis Lee Jones replaces an injured Don Manley in the role of
Delbert. The character of David, a deeply spiritual African-American, is also
Director J. Mitchell Haley spreads his nine actors in tall chairs in a shallow
semi-circle on a pitch-black stage. Shafts of light beam down to illustrate
each actor as they speak, then shift to another part of the stage. Clanging
jailhouse doors, gavels, gunshots - or the unmistakable zap of the electric
chair - ring out at some points.
The presentation proves powerful, poignant and moving, although letting actors
(obviously excusing Jones) keep the script at easels in front of or beside
their chairs distracts from the simplicity of the show. While refreshing to see
newcomers on the stage, the presentations sometimes feels like a reading - and
takes a few actors away from giving additional depth to their characters.
Haley's actors succeed best when they simply step forward and give voice to the
words of the wrongfully accused. The playwrights dug through court records,
courthouse files, depositions, interrogations and testimony. Much of the play
is reconstructed from the actual words of the participants. The authenticity of
"real people, real words" sings in a way that scripts sometimes don't.
Denise Scott slips off her chair and into the role of Sonia "Sunny" Jacobs like
she's putting on a pair of shoes. Quietly, Scott describes the case of the 1st
woman sentenced to die in Florida's electric chair. Wrong place, wrong time,
definitely the wrong boyfriend. She talks about bullets, policemen screaming at
her, a public defender and using Japanese kanji to carry on a secret love life
in her prison letters.
But it is her simple, eloquent - and entirely horrifying - description of her
boyfriend's death in the electric chair that makes the most impact. Jesse
Tafero's case became famous after the equipment malfunctioned, causing flames
to shoot from his head; it took 13 and a half minutes for him to die.
Mike Breen and Jamie Carmichael step into a variety of roles as the bold, ugly
face of a corrupt justice system. With just a few words and gestures in places,
they make you despise the people they portray. Carmichael's thundering
prosecutorial monologue taken from the case of Kerry Max Cook is one of the
play's most shocking moments.
Ken Johnson brings a hippie vibe to Gary, who faced a 21-hour police
interrogation and was badgered into confessing to the double murder of his
parents. Johnson's simple grace as he talks through the trying episode makes
the events all the more compelling.
Jamie Hutteman and Tiffany J. Campbell take on various ensemble roles as wives,
judges and girlfriends. Hutteman offers a sympathetic face to the people who
help the accused adjust after a life in prison. Campbell add snap as a
girlfriend and loudmouth judge.
Even if it avoids a debate on the morals of the death penalty, "The Exonerated"
makes it impossible not to think about the consequences of handing down such a
sentence. While the show stumbles in places - and the production didn't have
the smoothest path to the stage - it ignites a thousand questions about our
justice system in the minds of its audiences.
(source: Naples Daily News)