The Exonerated by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen
Pit and Balcony Community Theatre, 2006
Directed and designed by Marc Beaudin
“Exonerated sets gripping atmosphere … Yikes! Director/Designer Marc Beaudin certainly knows how to create a permeating atmosphere … although it’s a heartbreaking show, there also is a strong sense of the strength of the human spirit within it … from the get-go, this production sets an atmosphere that never quits … #9 Arts Events of 2006.” –The Saginaw News
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“While there is a lower class, I am in it.
While there is a criminal element, I am of it.
While there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”
–Eugene V. Debbs,
1920 Presidential Candidate and Prisoner #9653
The Exonerated is the kind of play that reminds us that theatre can change us; that it can change the world. Indeed, from its inception, this play has not only challenged, educated, motivated and uplifted audiences; but has, in very direct ways, helped many individuals who have been victims of an often unjust system rooted in classism, racism, and ineptitude. This system that we are led to believe, and often want/need to believe, to be fair and democratic is here revealed to be deeply flawed – flawed in a way that results in innocent people being imprisoned, abused, demonized, and ultimately (as overwhelming evidence indicates) murdered.
The silhouettes that surround you represent the 1004 Americans who are no longer here because of the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, and of the unknown number of these who could have been innocent: A metaphorical reminder that we are always surrounded by the presence of those who are no longer present. Who no longer are.
A great friend and mentor of mine, Joe Bertucci, used to say (borrowing an old newspaper adage) that “theatre should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” In the case of this show, we are both: We are, on one hand, too comfortable in our sense of justice promised and our willingness to condemn those labeled “criminal.” We need to be somewhat afflicted in order to develop the courage to face the truth. On the other hand, we are afflicted by a corrupt institution that takes our brothers and sisters, mothers and sons, friends and strangers away from our community. We are afflicted by crimes committed in our name. We need comfort. It is my sincere hope that, in the end, the very fact of the survival and transcendence of the individuals portrayed on our stage will provide this comfort by reminding us of the generosity of the human spirit and the perseverance of the human will.
Keep in mind that every word spoken tonight comes directly from real people, culled from interviews, court transcripts, letters, and the public record. Nothing has been invented for dramatic impact: The drama of actual life is enough.