With the death penalty issue dominating the national news, The Exonerated couldn't have hit the DC boards at a more appropriate time. Now playing at the Warner Theater, this awe-inspiring production brings to life the true stories of a handful of former death row inmates. The authors of this play, Jessica Blank and Erik Jenson, traveled the country in order to compile interviews, transcripts and court records. The resulting piece is a thought-provoking study of our country's justice system.
In terms of production value, there isn't much to see. No elaborate sets or costumes. Instead, the stage is bare except for several chairs lined in a row. In front of these chairs are music stands, each holding a copy of the script. Above the stage, strategically placed lights shine on the actors below. The set is simple and clean. It is a perfect setting for the very complex stories that are about to unfold. There is no need for adornment.
The Exonerated is primarily an ensemble piece, and the entire cast is remarkable. Three members of this cast of considerable note - Brian Dennehy, Mia Farrow and Chad Lowe - are known to mainstream audiences mostly for their work on the big and little screens. However, all have tread upon the boards at one time or another.
Mr. Dennehy is superb as Gary Gauger. His portrayal of the wrongly accused man appears effortless. Mr. Dennehy makes you feel as if you are hearing a story from an old friend. Mia Farrow is equally strong as Sunny Jacobs. Ms. Farrow was born to play the eloquent free spirit. If it were not for the knowledge that the real Sunny Jacobs is alive and well, it would be easy to assume that the role was created with Ms. Farrow in mind. The portrayal of Kerry Max Cook by Chad Lowe is also incredibly strong. Mr. Lowe portrays an innocence that remains despite the terrible ordeal he describes. However, his innocence easily changes and suddenly disappointment and anguish are revealed.
The remaining members of the ensemble have their work cut out for them as they take on a number of different roles. A particular standout is Tracie Thoms; the Baltimore native handles all of the material with skill and provides some much needed laughs along the way.
Despite some minor microphone problems, the performance I attended was presented beautifully. Whatever your personal politics may be, there is no denying that The Exonerated is a deeply moving piece of art. The Exonerated is a limited engagement that runs through Sunday, January 19th.
The Warner Theater
Cast List (in alphabetical order)
Larry Block: Male Ensemble #2