BWW Review: An Excellent Experience of The Actors' Gang's THE EXONERATED
The Actors' Gang's Co-Artistic Director Cynthia Ettinger ever so smoothly directs her very exceptional cast as they infuse life to six real-life, wrongly convicted death row survivors and the various peripheral people besides them. Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen's script of THE EXONERATED vividly illustrates how these six people managed to find themselves at the crosshairs of the American criminal justice executioner.
The six experiences interweave with much fluidity in the 90-minute, intense, involving drama. Told as monologues breaking the fourth wall to the audience, others in the ensemble help out when needed as courtroom personnel, policemen, and loved ones.
First up, Jaime Arze ably limns Garry, found guilty of murdering his parents. Within moments of discovering his parent's dead bodies, the investigating police incessantly interrogate him, with no time to grieve.
Next, Joshua R. Lamont totally charms as Robert convicted of raping a white girl. How Lamont as Robert manages to tell his unfair story while most of the time so joyously smiling ear to ear - he's a better man than I could be! Robert receives much support from his partner Georgia (a winning Monica Quinn). The way Lamont's Robert and Quinn's Georgia finish each other's sentences demonstrates their strong, loving bond as a couple.
Ken Palmer furnishes his Kerry with a complete rural backstory via with his laidback, sometime hesitant line deliveries. A shy fella, Kerry reveled in the 70's with his clothes from The Gap and platform shoes. A naive late-night encounter at a girl's apartment leads to Kerry being accused, tried, and convicted of her murder; with his vision statement inappropriately used as his confession.
Jeffy Branion kills as David, a man not even at the scene of the crime, brow-beaten to admit guilt. Branion clearly illustrates the heaviness of the injustice bearing down on David's body, while periodically calling on his faith to keep him going.
Mary Eileen O'Donnell literally lights up as Sunny, easily living up to her character's name. Sunny and her husband Jesse (Jason Ryan Lovett), by circumstances not unusual, end up in a car driven by Jesse's friend Rhodes (Colin Golden). The unusual circumstance has their car pulled over by patrolmen who Rhodes proceeds to shoot and kill. Sunny and Jesse end up on death row mainly from the lying testimony of the accusing Rhodes. Rhodes eventually confesses to this crime, unfortunately, too late to prevent Jesse's execution. Sunny, however, finally gets released from prison sixteen years after Rhodes' confession!
O'Donnell's Sunny blithely recalls her flower child years, while deliciously sharing how she and Jesse maintained written correspondence which included sex talk coded in Japanese.
Tucker Smallwood readily conveys the frustration of Delbert who waived extradition from Mississippi to Florida to clear his name, only to be found guilty.
Donna Jo Thorndale lends great support, both as Sue, Garry's wife and Sandra, Kerry's intended.
Golden and Lovett both totally inhabited their variety of supporting, but quite essential roles from the extreme ruthlessness to the sympathetic goodness. More than once, Golden and Lovett had to switch characters within seconds. Bravo. Misters Golden and Lovett!
The sole scenery on this bare stage - chairs, nine in number - get placed in various configurations and positions for the different settings of interrogation room, car insides, pool table area, and assorted generic places.
Bosco Flanagan's lighting shine the appropriate spotlights on the featured survivor while keeping the interchangeable lawyers, cops and crowds in dim light as they emphasize that their individuality has no import.
David Robbins' sound effects efficiently complement the actions pronounced.
Two swings undertaking two roles were so seamless with the regular cast, I had to look into the program insert to identify them.
Very nice team work - all around!