“The Exonerated” at Connecticut Repertory Theatre is Riveting!

 By Tony Schillaci and Don Church

It’s not often these days, while sitting in the theater, that one can literally “hear a pin drop.”

But during the ninety minutes that this first-rate production of “The Exonerated” is unfolding, the silence belies how completely the audience is in the grips of this powerful play.

It’s a shocking and true story about the criminal-justice system in the United States.  The piece tells the survival stories of six innocent individuals sentenced to death row who, by their courage, hope and tenacity, are finally exonerated by DNA evidence, proof of prosecutorial misconduct, and confessions of the truly guilty parties.

The six wrongfully convicted people, who escaped death row after having lived the nightmare from between two years to more than twenty, are powerfully portrayed by Cedric A. Turner, and by Master of Fine Arts student/actors Brooks Brantly, Kevin Coubal, Christina Greer, Phil Korth and Philip AJ Smithey.   These well-trained actors masterfully create three-dimensional and believable characters that instantly grab compassion and sympathy from the audience.

The fine supporting players are Brittany Green, Ryan Guess, Gretchen Goode, Robbie Thompson, Jr., Brian Patrick Williams and Arron Lloyd.  Usually in a review it is not necessary to name every actor in a play.  In the case of “The Exonerated,” to leave out the name of any one actor would in itself be a criminal act.  

The cast is ably directed by Dale AJ Rose.  Michael Anania’s stark scenic design is perfect. The costumes by Jeanette Drake capture the time and place.  Lighting designer Mike Billings keeps the focus on the action and the players.  Jack Nardi’s sound design maintains a perfect balance.

This well-written drama by Jessica Bland and Erik Jensen is largely verbatim from interviews and court documents, including direct testimony. Although the victim’s stories vary widely, the accused are often on the lower end of the socio-economic scale, often black men, or, in the minds of the prosecutors, deserve to be punished due to their perceived sexual preference.

The play indicts the prejudices and injustice of mostly backwater bigotry in the Deep South and the Southwest, and the “state” in the form of politically ambitious district attorneys, judges, sheriffs, deputies, and politicians who refuse to hear or accept new evidence that could reverse
wrongful first conclusions. 

It’s sadly true that one in eight people sentenced to death in this country has been wrongly convicted.  This story of six innocents who survived gives us food for thought and debate. 

“The Exonerated” plays at the Nafe Katter Theatre, UCONN, on Tuesday, October 13 through Sunday, October 18. Ticket prices range from $11-$29.  Call 860-486-4226 for tickets.  Ask about their “buy one show, get the next show free” offer.  www.crt.uconn.edu.

The Connecticut Repertory Theatre (CRT) is the professional producing arm of the Department of Dramatic Arts of the University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT       
                                                         
Published in the Reminder News (Mansfield & Windham)  – print & online - October 16, 2009. 

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