Imagine being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Imagine being arrested for a crime that you did not commit. Imagine being incarcerated for twenty two years on Death Row for said crime. Would you have the tenacity, courage and faith to survive – believing all the while that one day justice would be served and that you would be set free?
This nightmare could happen to any one of us as it did to the people whose true stories are told in the 10th anniversary revival of the award-winning THE EXONERATED now on stage at 45 Bleecker Street presented by the Culture Project in association with The Innocence Project trough November 4th in a production that is stark, subdued and immensely powerful – told “in their own words” from Death Row.
There are ten chairs and ten music stands and ten extremely fine-tuned actors to tell the collected frightening stories of the characters, tinged with dark humor. Beautifully put together by writers Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen who have done their research well – interviewing the actual participants, poring over court records and transcripts and case files they have managed to document the most horrible of crimes – having a person’s identity stripped away – being replaced by a number – for the longest amount of time before lady luck shone down on them for a reprieve.
And then what? They are released only to find a new world that they cannot adjust to. Having to learn how to feel again after being broken down from being in prison and dealing with the horrors they have experienced.
These people are well spoken, speaking from their hearts. They are sometimes poetic and philosophical. Sometimes angry. But all the while believing. It’s a wonderful testament to the human spirit of survival.
It’s interesting to note that many of the incidents took place in the Deep South circa 1970 – Texas, Mississippi and Florida. Blacks and homosexuals were prime targets as well as some white folks with the supposed Justice System having a blind eye to the truth – tricking them into falsely confessing and simply refusing to listen.
THE EXONERATED has a rotating cast. As Sunny Jacobs, Stockard Channing was totally inspirational and moving especially when she introduced the real Sunny Jacobs whose description of her husband’s execution will keep you awake for nights after seeing this docudrama.
Brian Dennehy as Gary Gauger, Delroy Lindo as Delbert Tibbs and Chris Sarandon as Kerry Max Cook (who suffered untold indignities at the hands of his prison mates) are each excellent as they relate their woven together nightmares with fantastic lighting by Tom Ontiveros and sound effects by David Robbins.
Bob Balaban has directed with a sensitive, sure hand making this a truly memorable experience.
With Jim Bracchitta, Amelia Campbell, Bruce Kronenberg, Curtis McClarin, April Yvette Thompson and JD Williams.
Other rotating cast members include: Steve Earle, John Forte, K’naan, Lyle Lovett and Brooke Shields.
Ninety mesmerizing minutes without intermission.
www.cultureproject.org Photo: Carol Rosegg
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