Review by Liz Eichler of “The Exonerated”: Falcon Theatre
There are a lot of great reasons to go to the theatre, but few are a matter of life and death. “The Exonerated” is a play that has the power to change minds, to open people up to the idea that the justice system is flawed, and that capital punishment should be abolished, saving the hundreds innocent people who sit on death row, there only because of poverty, vulnerability, or other people’s greed, ignorance, or racism. “The Exonerated” is changing minds about putting people to death, and I recommend everyone see it. Falcon Theatre’s production is a powerful, moving, and uplifting mosaic portraying the true stories of six unjustly accused and convicted human beings, demonstrating that even though years have been stolen from these people, they still have hope and faith in humanity.
The backbone of this production is Dee Anne Bryll’s portrayal of Sunny. She imbues the character and the show with love and joy, as she shares the story of a young hippie mother getting caught up in the wrong crowd. Another poetic and joyful character is the narrator Delbert, portrayed by Darryl Hilton, a poet and wanderer, but he was never in Florida at the time of the murders he was accused—and convicted—of committing. But he was a black man, the only thing the jury saw. Hilton is a warm and inviting philosopher, guiding the viewer from the tension points of the six interwoven stories, deftly helping the audience gain a perspective.
The entire ensemble works together to create a powerful message, that not only are innocent people on death row, but in our criminal justice system it is easier to get them there, than to get them out.
Karson McCall, Kelly Hale, Joy Roland Oba and Nathan Tubbs make up the Ensemble, taking on multiple characters and accents with ease. They are equally good at portraying the likable and unlikable characters that fill out the four other stories. James Troup is David, a shy man, grappling with his faith during the years of his incarceration (never present at a robbery and murder) and after release. Keith Alan Holland, Jr. portrays Robert with quiet energy. Brian Griffin as Gary tell the story of a country man who discovered the death of his parents, and had to grapple with grief and an unending interrogation which manipulated a confession. Phineas Clark brings young Kerry to life, victimized by the other inmates, yet again, still innocent of the crime he supposedly committed, until DNA evidence and competent lawyers take his case.
Director Paul Morris guides us through the stories with ease, and also created the set design— simple institutional chairs with an American flag in the background, well lit by Ted Weil. Clothing (by Beth Bolling-Joos) doesn’t call attention to itself. But the richness in design comes from the Chris Strobel, sound designer, who sets the mood with blues and bluegrass at the beginning, and rich effects of prison doors slamming, rain, and more. Written by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen in 2002, it’s important message still reverberates and is championed by many law and justice groups, such as the Ohio Innocence Project out of UC Law School, who also advised on this production.
“The Exonerated” is only 90 minutes, and runs through February 9. This is a great education on social justice (and injustice) well performed and presented by Falcon Theatre, 636 Monmouth Street, Newport, Kentucky. Go to falcontheater.net for tickets.