BWW Review: THE EXONERATED at Vagabond Theatre Company
On Sunday, February 25, I had the pleasure of seeing THE EXONERATED at the historic Bijou Theatre in Bridgeport, CT. This was my first time at this theatre and my first show that I have seen put on by the Vagabond Theatre Company. I hope to see many more in the future, as this show is amazing, based on true stories, and sends some deeply impacting messages that touch the emotions to the core, in a good way. It opens awareness in the minds of the audience, about things not always being as they seem, and people not always being who they may appear to be.
- This show, adapted by Jessica Blank and Eric Jensen is directed brilliantly by Richard Mancini. The cast of ten are all convincing in their roles, conveying an energy that cuts deeply in this powerful drama. We get to hear the true stories of six people who individually were wrongfully convicted and incarcerated for murder that they had not committed. The cast members are seated up on stage in two rows of five, the front row being five of the wrongfully convicted while the back row has one of the wrongfully convicted sitting in the middle, with two people seated on each side of him, each who play multiple accompanying roles in this drama. Slides are shown on a screen behind the cast, including slides that show pictures of the actual people who are represented by this stellar cast. While the stories of the convicted are unrelated to each other, the distribution of the stories is interspersed throughout the show, so the audience gets a sense of each of the six stories, throughout the show, as opposed to a straight sequencing of one story to completion after the next story to completion, for six stories. I found that this style of pacing works very well in this show.
Warren Richards portrays David Keaton, who was a man of Christian faith, while in prison. I look at his story from the perspective that his wrongful conviction may have been used to help lead fellow prisoners to the Lord, bringing about the ultimate good we trust upon in the promise of Romans 8:28.
Jehan Abdurraheem portrays Delbert Tibbs, another person who, moved by grace, showed the positive message of not clinging to bitterness, and keeping a positive view of America, police, and people from all racial backgrounds, despite the real life race based injustice that he experienced in the American legal system. By God's grace, attitudes like his could help revolutionize America in a positive way. He was faced with the challenge of learning how to feel, emotionally, once again.
Elijah Manning portrays Robert Hayes, with an excellent southern drawl, a character who experienced further injustice, through mistreatment at the hands of guards, after his wrongful conviction. We see, in Robert Hayes, how wrongful convictions that are overturned can still come with complications that further hinder the exonerated from acquiring legal documentation required to move forward in some aspects of life.
Monica M O'Brien portrays Sunny Jacobs, a woman who got arrested after being kidnapped, along with her children, by a man who she had witnessed murder two police officers. The man managed to pull strings to pin the murders on her, separating her from her children, and from her husband. Nevertheless, she kept up hope in God and refused to allow herself to play the victim. Her prayers are believed to have helped lead to a powerful movement of grace that would be too much of a spoiler to describe in any more detail.
John R. Smith, Jr. portrays Gary Gauger, a man who found himself under arrest for the murder of his own parents, within hours of experiencing the trauma of finding them dead. He still remained an inspiration, insisting that the real killers not be placed on death row, as such would not bring his parents back.
Avery Jade, Sue O'Hara, Rob Pawlikowski, and Tim Brandt round out the cast, convincingly playing multiple roles of characters in the lives of the wrongfully convicted.
The heart-wrenching stories which were so movingly conveyed by this talented cast who all remained in character at all times should make all audience members think twice before pointing fingers at anyone, including those convicted of criminal felonies. Sometimes, violent crimes that cry out for serious punishment are prosecuted in sloppy or outright corrupt ways that become huge injustices both towards the falsely prosecuted, and towards the original victims of the crimes. What makes matters worse is that, once the innocent are exonerated, procedure can inhibit their immediate release from prison, as if completion of paperwork, scheduling, and other technicalities are valid grounds to keep the wrongfully convicted incarcerated.
I highly recommend THE EXONERATED which is scheduled to continue to run, courtesy of the Vagabond Theatre Company, at the Bijou Theatre in Bridgeport, CT, next weekend, on Friday March 2 at 8:00 PM, Saturday March 3 at 8:00 PM, and Sunday March 4 at 5:00 PM. For tickets, please go to http://www.vagabondbpt.org/exonerated.