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BWW Review: iTheater Collaborative Presents THE TRIAL OF THE CATONSVILLE NINE

BWW Review: iTheater Collaborative Presents THE TRIAL OF THE CATONSVILLE NINE

In its current Season focus on civil dissonance and discord (entitled Civil Dis-), iTheatre Collaborative is reawakening audience attention to the decades-old issues that have torn at America's social and political fabric. In the second of four productions (the first, the searing and riveting production of WHITE GUY ON THE BUS), the focus is on the trauma of the war in Vietnam and the individuals who protested it.

Daniel Berrigan's THE TRIAL OF THE CATONSVILLE NINE recounts the adjudication in October 1968 of the charges against him, his brother Philip, and seven kindred activists for burning 378 draft cards outside the office of the Selective Service System in Catonsville, Maryland.

In the course of the defendants' individual testimonies ~ overseen by a letter-of-the-law Judge (Matt Madonna), challenged by the stern and tenacious Prosecution (Sydney Davis), and sustained by the compassionate Defense (Mike Traylor) ~ it becomes eminently clear that something far more profound is on trial. As the law exists to safeguard the public interest, what recourse does the public have when it is the government that violates the law and perpetrates unconscionable acts? As Lady Justice holds the balance scales, what weight should be given to acts driven by conscience?

The playwright exercises license by giving free rein to his cohorts, despite frequent protestations from the bench and the prosecution, to explain the context for their spiritual and conscientious journey to resistance. They bear witness to American foreign policy in action ~ in Guatemala, Uganda and the Congo, the Dominican Republic ~ and the betrayals of what they had understood to be their country's principles and values. They speak of the experiences that drove them to become obsessed with the sins of poverty and discrimination.

Daniel (Bill Chameides), the Catholic priest who strives throughout the play, to explain his actions as a Christian, implores the court to understand that the group's action was intended to save lives: "Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children." He is followed over the course of an uninterrupted ninety minutes by passionate proclamations of principle, seasoned with outrage and grief.

Directed by Charles St. Clair, the mood is set with emotion-laden and haunting recalls of the '60's. Vocalist/guitarist Olivia Hsu (poised like a flower child with garland in her hair) precedes the show, crooning familiar tunes of the times by the likes of James Taylor and Country Joe and The Fish. A nearly three-minute sequence of film and sound clips follows, documenting the chaos and tragedies of the period. It is then that our attention becomes firmly contextualized and fixed on the ensuing proceedings.

THE TRIAL OF THE CATONSVILLE NINE is designed to arouse contemplation and to challenge our sensibilities and sensitivities. It is a work of intellect, written by a man of the Word with a poetic talent. In service to its message, the cast of this production has ably and forcefully delivered the Goods.

In the beginning of the play, The Judge charges the audience to serve as the jury, albeit the final verdicts are uttered by an overhead voice. This does not, however, relieve any member of the audience from contemplating the reality of what transpired in that courthouse, its relevance to our own times, and the ethical imperative of resistance to evil.

THE TRIAL OF THE CATONSVILLE NINE runs through November 3rd on the Kax Stage at the Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix.

Photo credit to Christopher Haines

L to R fore: Christine Engle (Mary Moylan), Cae Collmar (Marjorie Melville)

L to R back: Jacob Nichols (John Hogan), Jeff DiDomenico (David Darst), Zac Fagan (George Mische), Glenn Parker (Philip Berrigan), Bill Chameides (Daniel Berrigan), Max Cano (Thomas Lewis), Jason Ketner (Thomas Melville)

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From This Author Herbert Paine