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"Innocent" they shout!
"Innocent" they shout!
by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

The Exonerated
Directed by David Hsieh
ReAct Theatre
Through September 23


Imagine being stopped by police, wondering what you did wrong, and they suddenly arrest you. Imagine that they accuse you of a terrible murder that you were nowhere near. Imagine that, somehow at trial, the jury thinks you did it and sentences you to death! Imagine that happening all over this country. This scenario is one of the most terrifying societal horrors I can imagine.

The Exhonerated, by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, tells several of these horrible stories of mistaken identity or prosecutorial misconduct or the leap to think the worst by the police. The play covers real people, accused of real murders, arrested and convicted and put on real death rows. These stories have an aspect of good news, since each of these innocent people were able to have the verdict overturned and were freed. Their examples, of their tenacity and belief in their innocence, of the triumph of spirit, inspire and awe. A quote from Delbert Tibbs, one of the exonerated people showcased tion, is, "I realized if I internalized all the pain, and all the anger, and all the hurt, I'd be dead already."

To clarify, an exhoneration is an actual declaration of innocence. A lot of people are declared "not guilty" at trial. This is not the same thing as "innocent," as we all know from watching the OJ trials. The stories you hear in this play are from people who were proven to be totally innocent. Even then, they went home to a community that still were not convinced, in many cases, of the innocence of these death row inmates. You know that "where there's smoke, there's fire" mentality.

ReAct's production is solid, respectful and somber, under David Hsieh's direction. The ultimate effect of hearing these stories is a sense of elevation and a larger awareness of injustice in our country. The play is simply staged, just a few random chairs, no scenery, and a few actual costumes, mostly for the law-enforcement bit characters. Lighting, by Tim Crist, draws our eye to the person who's story is spotlighted at that moment. Strong characterization come from the ensemble of actors, who clearly had researched their historical figures and found secure footing in their presentations.

The entire ensemble did a great job, but a couple of performances walk out the door with you. Deniece Bleha, as Sunny Jacobs, kidnapped by a crazy murderer and then accused of the crime herself, portrays Jacobs' tenacity and enjoyment. Bleha draws us in to places where she found light. Patrick Allcorn, as Kerry Max Cook, an innocent 19 year old who was brutally raped and disfigured (words carved into his skin) in prison, shows a pathos and resignation, even as he proudly displays his pregnant wife. Curt Bolar seems to give a strong performance as Delbert Tibbs, the main character, of sorts, of the play. But Bolar gives a quiet performance and sometimes he is barely heard over some of the sound system. What we could hear clearly was deft and moving.

This is the kind of play that can indelibly alter your thinking. Especially young children in their teens, who may need to learn about this injustice in order to protect against it in the future. Certainly, the sponsorship by the ACLU might prompt you to write a check and become a member, to support the other Project Innocence efforts, for other death row inmates who really are innocent. It reminds us that we need to be vigilant to protect our rights to a fair trial, to have adequate council, and enough time to appeal; a very applicable sentiment in these times of The Patriot Act.

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