"The Exonerated," a play by Erik Jensen and Jessica Blank, will be performed in the Fulton-Montgomery Community College Theatre as part of the Buck Moon Arts Festival on July 12 at 6:30 p.m. and July 13 at 4 p.m.
In 2000, playwrights Blank and Jensen traveled the United States to document the stories of 40 people wrongly convicted of odious crimes and later released from death row. "The Exonerated" is the result of Blank and Jensen's research. The play focuses on six of these exonerated Americans as they recount their arrests and trials, reveal shocking and disturbing events from their time on death row, and come to terms with their newfound freedom.
Culled from interviews, letters, transcripts, case files and public records, "The Exonerated" is not like other plays. It is a "documentary drama" that tells the true stories of six wrongfully convicted individuals who spent 2 to 22 years on death row. Monologues and scenes are interwoven to paint a picture of an American criminal justice system gone wrong - and of six brave souls who persevered to survive it all.
The death penalty is one of the truly divisive issues of our time, yet "The Exonerated" is constructed in a way that allows its stories to be the central focus. In a 2005 interview with gothamist.com, the playwrights stated, "Our job as playwrights was to tell the stories of the exonerated people as purely and simply as we could. We tried hard to avoid describing our own political ideas in the play, for example, or talking about our own experiences learning about the criminal justice system, because we felt that it was so important that the exonerated people's powerful stories speak for themselves."
In keeping with this concentration on simplicity, the Buck Moon Arts Festival production will be a staged reading. This style will allow the audience to experience the stark words of the characters undistracted and uninterrupted. In writing about a 2002 production that was similarly staged, New York Times critic Ben Brantley wrote, "The actor, for the moment, has vanished. And the words, and the hurt behind them, do seem to slip directly under your skin, testaments to the idea that some scars never disappear. ... There are no isolated moments that scream 'watch me,' no fancy tics and quavers to pump up the emotional volume. Such modesty suits 'The Exonerated,' which tells stories that require no artificial heightening."
"The Exonerated" will be directed by FM faculty member Jason Radalin and will feature a cast made up of current FM students, alumni and community members. The cast includes Orlando Camacho, Edwin Vazquez, Mike Sheridan, Shawn Barnes, Mark Peek, Lou Shaver, Melissa Capone, Shanna Becker, Dominic Wassel and Rosanne Melita. Original music for the production is being composed and performed by Scott Collins.
There will also be post-show discussions after each of the performances, so that in the midst of this controversial issue, everyone can add voices to the debate and we can continue the conversation.
Many different forms of art will be on display at the Buck Moon Arts Festival: music and dance, photography and film, painting and sculpture. We are proud to be presenting this vital piece of dramatic art as a part of the inaugural festival. Visit buckmoonartsfestival.com.
Jason Radalin is assistant professor of theater arts.