Highly Recommended**** Next Theatre Company of Evanston has teamed up with The Theatre and Interpretation Center at Northwestern University to bring back the chilling case studies presented in dramatic fashion, “The Exonerated” to finish off their season. Written by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, this is a 90 minute dramatization of interviews that were done with six former death row prisoners whose convictions were overturned and who did get released. The stories uses the actual interviews and their words, but put into a dramatic presentation that allows our focus to stay on each of the intertwined stories dealing with how each ended up in jail, what happened to them during that period and how they have adjusted to life afterwards.
Directed by Cat Miller on a simple stage at The Josephine Louis Theatre, located on the campus of Nortwestern University in Evanston, this is not a typical play, but is in fact 90 minutes of real life drama as presented by a solid cast of actors.. Delbert ( Alfred H. Wilson) , Jesse ( Michael Silberblatt), Gary ( Jack Olin), Sunny (Julia Rose Duray) Rhodes (Eric Freeman), David (Michael Norman Henry), Kerry ( Alex Jacobs) Robert ( Pernell Myers) and the ensemble members , Bill Bannon, Elizabeth Dowling, James Joseph and Lily Mojekwu take us into these real stories as each tells what took place and what happened to them that either forced a confession or convicted them.
While the stories are different, each of these incarcerated people lost a great deal of their lives for something they did not do and while they are now free, they are not as free as you and me. They still have the scars, both physical and mental of the years they were locked in a cell and as they describe the events, we can feel the heartache and the nightmares they endured. Is the American justice system as bad as it appears to be from these stories? Is the goal of the system to solve cases and punish those who are guilty or to serve the public and political system by resolving a matter in any way they can? That is one of the questions that enters into this presentation.
The people in a small town , in order to feel more comfortable with their lives, want the law to solve a crime and put the guilty in jail, but often the law rushes to judgement and after hours of grueling interviews, often the law convinces the accused that they have enough to convict them so they might as well confess , making it easier on the trial and the punishment. This play shows us the problems that are within the criminal system and is a powerful production that should make you think about where we are as a country. Of course, today’s technology and the use of DNA has improved getting to the truth of the matter, but in one of our cases, a fingerprint of the accused was on the door- however, that did not mean that he was the killer, so even with the technology, errors do happen. The system will never be perfect, but “rushing to judgement” can be eradicated by the system making sure that no stone is unturned- that is what the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern is dedicated to. In addition to working on getting these wrongful accused released, part of their mission is to see that there is help in re-adjusting to this freedom and to make sure that there is some compensation of the portion of their lives that was “stolen” from them.
What makes this joint effort so exciting is the use of students doing props and building the set as well as working on the lights, sound and costumes along with the Next technical people. This is a play about people and it is people who make this production work. The purpose of presenting a production such as this , is to make us aware of these situations and to find ways to make sure that our legal system serves the people- all the people. One of the questions that arises during this production truly got to me-
We pay our District Attorneys to prosecute criminals to the full extent of the law and to find the guilty party, but, since they are elected , in many cases, if election time is nearing, will he or she go to any extreme to get a conviction to satisfy the voters? Should they stand back and look at the facts? Or should they do whatever it takes to convict, even if there are some missing parts of the puzzle? If you have ever thought about what goes on in the heads of some of the people you have read about in paper, people who you will probably never encounter in your everyday life, this is a chance to open your minds to the power and lack of consideration in our criminal system, which is far better than a great many other country’s, but certainly not perfect.
“The Exonerated” will continue at the Josephine Louis Theatre located at 20 Arts Circle Drive on the Northwestern Campus through May 5th with performances as follows:
Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m.,Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.
Tickets range from $10-$25 and are available by calling 847-491-7282 or online at www.nexttheatre.org
There are also $5 for students at Northwestern
Getting to the theater is a little tricky, so to make life easier, the best way to get there is to use Sheridan Road in Evanston ( just before it merges with Chicago Avenue) and turn into Campus Drive. There is some construction going on, but as you get on this street , you will see a parking lot and can go up the ramp where there is plenty of parking. It says metered, but there are none, so it is FREE. The building just to the north of the lot is The Louis Theatre .
To learn more about the co-sponsors, Northwestern Theatre and Interpretation Center, visit www.tic.northwestern.edu
There are post show discussions after each performance, so allow a little more than the 90 minutes so you can hear from the theatre companies, recent exonerees and members of the Bluhm Legal Clinic.To see full listings, visit www.tic.northwestern.edu/exonerated
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to review round-up and click at” The Exonerated”