POSTED ON OCTOBER 28, 2009:
Turning Up the Heat
Freedom rings true for some and get threatened for others in two local performances
True Stories. What made The Exonerated so fascinating and yet difficult to watch was that it is an entirely true story, taken straight from the charactersí mouths.
In its most recent production, Heller Theatre exemplifies how theatre can be a tool to trigger social change as well as a means of entertainment.
Probably the last thing audiences felt during The Exonerated was entertained. What we did feel was perplexed, emotional, angry and inspired.
The Exonerated, written by Jessica Blank and Eric Jensen and directed by George Romero, tells the stories of six Death Row inmates, imprisoned for crimes they didn't commit and eventually exonerated.
Ron Friedberg is Gary, accused of murdering his parents and brainwashed by law enforcement into confessing to the crime. He was released one year after it was proven members of the Outlaws motorcycle gang were actually responsible for the crime.
Kerry Max Cook, played by Craig Walter, was imprisoned in 1977 for murdering a woman in Tyler, Texas. He was released 22 years later after DNA evidence proved him innocent.
Robert Ear Hayes, played by Robert Walters, spent seven years on Death Row for the murder of a white woman he had previously dated.
Liz Masters plays Sunny Jacobs, a yoga teacher from California, who spent 17 years on Death Row for the murder of two police officers, killed by a man who had kidnapped her, her husband and children. Her husband, Jesse, was also imprisoned and executed.
David Keaton, played by B.J. Johnson, was imprisoned at 18 for a robbery and murder he didn't commit. His southern town's sheriff was up for reelection and looking to solve a big case. Keaton was bullied into confessing.
Darrell Christopher, as Delbert Tibbs, acts as a sort of narrator, weaving the others' stories in with his own, connecting them with lines of beatnik poetry. Tibbs was convicted of murder in the 1970s but later freed when evidence proved he wasn't in the state at the time of the crime.
The play's writers used transcripts from interviews and court and police records to write their script. It is performed as a series of monologues, each character segregated, figuratively and physically, from the others. An ensemble, comprised of Shrae Johnson, Susan Dergoul, W. Bryan Thompson, Michael Remington and Kathern Shaine, performs the roles of spouse, lawyer, judge and officer where needed. The ensemble players are typically backlit, hiding their faces from the audience, making them even more ominous and maintaining the play's focus on its exonerated characters.
Romero couldn't have assembled a better cast. The actors remained seated for the play's entirety, with the exception of Christopher, who moved purposefully from character to character, listening to their stories. She had to trust that her actors could tell their stories through the delivery of their lines alone. And they did.
They played real people, each human, with flaws and strengths alike, who made us laugh and cry, examine ourselves and the world we live in; one that would allow people to spend years in prison for crimes they didn't commit, and wonder what we could possibly do to help.
What made the play so fascinating and yet difficult to watch was that it is an entirely true story, taken straight from the characters' mouths. What made it so convincing and emotional was how easily and naturally the actors portrayed their characters.
The Exonerated continues at Heller Theatre, at Henthorne Park, 4825 S. Quaker, Oct. 29-31 at 8pm and Nov. 1 at 2pm. Tickets are $8. Make reservations by calling 746-5065. More information is at www.hellertheatre.com.
It's present-day New York, and Theresa Bedell, a successful reporter, is on a blind date. Tony is handsome and charming, but it doesn't take long for Theresa to determine the relationship isn't going anywhere.
He begins pursuing Theresa aggressively, and soon what starts out as annoying becomes terrifying.
And that's just the beginning of Rebecca Gilman's thriller Boy Gets Girl, presented by The Playhouse Theatre Oct. 28-31.
"The play is about how (Theresa's) life evolves from being this independent, successful woman to someone who is hollow and afraid," said Courtneay Sanders, who plays Theresa.
She said every character in the play is changed because of Tony's actions and their effects on Theresa.
Sanders is reprising a role she played five years ago as a graduate student at the University of Arkansas. Theresa was her thesis role.
Chris Crawford, Playhouse's artistic director, directs Boy Gets Girl. Sanders said the play's structure is similar to that of a film, with short scenes set in various locations in New York City. To replicate that, Crawford's set is composed of generic set pieces rearranged to represent the different locales. To add to the air of voyeurism, all set and Sanders' costume changes will be done on stage.
Boy Gets Girl plays in the Tulsa Performing Arts Center's Liddy Doenges Theatre at 8pm Oct.28-31. Tickets are available at www.tulsapac.com or 596-7111.
Also on stage this week at the PAC is American Theatre Company's Side Show, a musical about conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton and their rise to fame from the freak show to the Vaudeville circuit.
The play runs Oct. 30-31 at 8pm in the John H. Williams Theatre. Tickets are $24-30.
Retired architect Bob Sober has been hard at work inside his home art studio, and he's ready to show off what he's been working on.
If you've been to the Circle Cinema lately, you've likely seen his colorful pop art oil paintings in the gallery. They've been hanging there since Sept. 24. But no art show is complete without an opening party, so Sober will host one Thursday, Oct. 29.
"Sky of Blue and Sea of Green" consists of photo-realistic paintings of action figures created from the animated film Yellow Submarine.
His art party, much like his art, promises to be different than a regular ole reception. Attendees are encouraged (but not required) to arrive dressed in their favorite Beatles- or '60s-inspired attire and have fun.
The party is at the Circle, 12 S. Lewis, at 5:30pm. The show will hang through Nov. 29. For more information, call 585-3456.
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