Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

The Trial of the Catonsville Nine
iTheatre Collaborative
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of The 1940's Radio Hour, The Bad Seed, Jaws: Live, Abridged and Completely Underfunded, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde , Titanic


Mike Traylor, Matt Madonna, Max Cano,
Bill Chameides, and Sydney Davis

Photo Courtesy of Christopher Haines /iTheatre Collaborative
On May 17, 1968, nine Catholic activists, including Father Daniel Berrigan, took 378 files from a draft board office in Catonsville, Maryland, and burned them in the office's parking lot using a homemade version of napalm to protest American involvement in Vietnam. The subsequent court trial for these individuals, dubbed "the Catonsville Nine," is the basis for Berrigan's play The Trial of the Catonsville Nine. While the passion of the activists is clearly present in the script and also in the actors' portrayals of the nine in iTheatre Collaborative's well-directed production, the play itself doesn't really deliver anything riveting in the way of a plot, and much of the testimony has a sameness to it that borders, somewhat, on boring sermon. However, if you approach the drama as an interesting history lesson and a way to better understand the motivations of the nine individuals, or even as a chilling reminder that it seems we are still dealing with many of the same issues today that were present fifty years ago, you'll most likely get more out of the piece than if you're looking for an intriguing court room drama.

Berrigan based his play on the actual trial transcripts. He manages to weave the testimony into a forward-moving narrative, though, with nine individuals recounting their slightly similar backstories in detail, it does get repetitive. Fortunately, it makes for a humbling lesson in the facts of the case as well as giving an elegant voice to all nine of the activists to show what events were the catalyst for their involvement in the burning of the draft files. All nine had varied pasts, which included serving the poor and minorities both here in the U.S. and abroad in such areas as Latin America and Africa. It was these personal experiences that made them realize the U.S. wasn't the great country they thought it was. These personal stories provide the most meat in the play and help us clearly see that these individuals knew they could never go back to the life they led before. These experiences plus the combination of their religious principles and desire for social change led them to fight for peace and justice as well as participate in moments of civil disobedience.

Charles St. Clair's direction does well to ensure the actors draw you into their stories to hold your attention. He also uses Christopher Haines' simple but smart set design, which places two benches for the trial's jury in the front row of the audience. This works effectively as a way, when combined with the actor's testimony which is delivered straight on at us, to turn the entire audience into the jury for the trial. At the beginning of the play audio and video clips give a sense of what was going on in the world in 1968, and Elizabeth Broeder's sound and media design also incorporates imagery throughout that ties into the dialogue and testimony.

There isn't a weak link in the cast. Bill Chameides' portrayal of Daniel Berrigan is filled with passion and conviction, while there is a pure sense of dignity in Glenn Parker's performance of Daniels' brother Philip Berrigan. Matt Madonna is excellent as the impatient Judge who, though he is frustrated from the inability of the defendants to get to the point in their testimony, keeps reminding the jury to weigh the case on the facts that are presented and not on their conscience or what motivated the convicted to act. Jeff DiDomenico, Jacob Nichols, Max Cano, Cae Collmar, Jason Ketner, Zachary Fagan and Christine Engel all deliver compassionate performances as the other members of the nine, while Mike Traylor and Sydney Davis are direct and all business as the trial's two judges.

The ability to reconcile your conscience with the rules of the law is something the play focuses on as well as how the nine had lost confidence in the institutions of our country, both governmental and religious. The Catonsville Nine were clearly passionate people and the play itself, while a bit uneven and repetitive, is still interesting even though it also unfortunately shows just how we are still taking a stand and protesting for racial injustice and other causes that we are passionate about just like the Catonsville Nine did 50 years ago,

iTheatre Collaborative's The Trial of the Catonsville Nine, through November 3rd, 2018, at the Herberger Theater Center, 222 E Monroe St., Phoenix, AZ. Information for this show and upcoming productions can also be found at www.itheatreaz.org.

Written by Daniel Berrigan
Director: Charles St. Clair
Production Design: Christopher Haines
Sound /Media Design: Elizabeth Broeder

Cast:
Daniel Berrigan: Bill Chameides
Philip Berrigan: Glenn Parker
David Darst: Jeff DiDomenico
John Hogan: Jacob Nichols
Thomas Lewis: Max Cano
Marjorie Melville: Cae Collmar
Thomas Melville: Jason Ketner
George Mische: Zachary Fagan
Mary Moylan: Christine Engel
Defense: Mike Traylor
Judge: Matt Madonna
Prosecution: Sydney Davis
Witness: Skye Ayers


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