BWW REVIEWS: THE EXONERATED at Delaware Theatre Company
Have you ever felt wronged? Really, profoundly wronged? Ever been treated badly, horribly, unjustly? The Exonerated, currently at Delaware Theatre Company, provides a channel through which we hear, and, in a limited sense, see, the stories of six people who were arrested, tried, and convicted, who spent time on death row, and who were subsequently released. The stories are recounted episodically - events leading to the arrest, custody and trial, imprisonment, and release - so that the parallel stories intertwine.
Six actors each represent one of the six "exonerees" whose stories are the basis of the play. David Alan Anderson, as Delbert Tibbs, also serves as master of Ceremonies, introducing the performance and providing narrative links between presentations. He commands the stage and is more than adequate to both roles. The remaining exonerees are portrayed by William Zielinski (Gary Gauger), Akeem Davis (Robert Earl Hayes), Anthony Lawton (Kerry Max Cook), Frank X (David Keaton), and Megan Bellwoar (Sunny Jacobs). Tom Byrn, Dan Hodge, Aimé Donna Kelly, and Susan Riley Stevens provide the persons of spouses and family members, policemen, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges.
Through their individual and combined efforts, The Exonerated is a powerful and moving drama, delivered as a combination of narrative and depiction, evoking an often visceral reaction. A tale (or tales) well told.
Playwrights Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen have distilled and blended hours of interviews into a succinct, coherent, moving presentation. Director David Bradley has decanted that spirit into appropriate vessels and arranged them artfully. Yoshi Tanokura's set is simple and clean, offering access from all sides and excellent visibility, even with the entire cast on stage. Shifting from one narrative to another is quickly accomplished through Shon Causer's effective isolations and enhanced by Mike Hahn's atmospheric sound design.
I highly recommend The Exonerated as a dramatic presentation almost guaranteed to provoke serious thought and discussion. I do add the caveat - accept nothing at face value. It is easy to be caught up in the earnest stories, especially as presented by skilled performers in a well-crafted setting.
It is in my nature to conduct research; in doing so, I discovered that it is necessary to distinguish between two related, but different, meanings of "exonerated". The implied interpretation is "acquitted, cleared, vindicated" but it also means simply "released, discharged, freed". Clearly, all of the individuals whose stories are presented have been freed; their vindication is less readily demonstrated. The stories presented on stage are told from the perspective of "the exonerated" and are based on their personal accounts. They were each released under different sets of circumstances that included plea bargains and legal technicalities. It would appear that most have made good use of their freedom, though one has since been arrested and convicted, in a different state, for a crime very similar to that for which he was "exonerated".