September 22, 2011
Please welcome Catherine, a P8TT reader, for a guest post with her review of “8″, the play about the Prop 8 trial that premiered on Broadway this week -Adam
By Catherine E. Bell
During my allotted time on Twitter not too long ago, one of my friends retweeted a notice that Matt Bomer had become involved in the staged reading of Dustin Lance Black’s play, 8. I hadn’t heard of the project, so I followed the link and found, even after staggering at the ticket prices, that I had to go see and support it.
The play itself was powerful and engaging, though a bit uneven. There were great moments of poignancy and drama, including star turns by Jayne Houdyshell as a true-to-life, despicable Maggie Gallagher, Christine Lahti as Kris Perry, Ellen Barkin as Sandy Stiers, Bob Balaban as Judge Walker and Morgan Freeman as the quietly deadly David Boies. Bradley Whitford gave a very brave performance as defense attorney Charles Cooper. His “I…don’t…know….” was executed with exquisite, risky timing and elicited the deepest belly laugh of the night.
Highest kudos, though, to Rob Reiner as the hilariously maddening David Blankenhorn and John Lithgow – actor of the night – as plaintiff’s attorney Theodore B. Olson. Bomer told me afterwards that he would have killed for Lithgow’s monologue (Olson’s closing speech), so perfectly delivered at the end of the play. I hope that people will have the opportunity to see this performance as the cameras recorded it.
There were also missed opportunities. From a dramatic perspective, I wanted to see more of Jeff Zarillo (Bomer) and Paul Katami (Cheyenne Jackson). The family moments shown between Kris and Sandy and their sons were poignant and necessary. A similar fleshing out of Paul and Jeff would have given the piece balance and advanced the arguments in both the play and the trial. It would also have further grounded the play’s very effective use of the awful ads that helped sway the Prop 8 vote in the wrong direction.
To Black’s great credit, the consensus from trial witnesses M.V. Lee Badgett and Dr. Ilan Meyer was that he had struck a decent balance between disseminating key elements of the trial and the dramatic affect needed to hook an audience. This is not easy to do. Television dramas notwithstanding, real trials don’t always read well on stage. Some license must be taken to bring them home to audiences of stage and screen, even when the words themselves are epic and brilliant. Badgett and her wife, a lawyer, confirmed that Olson’s speech was not originally delivered with the passion Lithgow gave it.
One of the most striking things about the night was the generosity flowing in so many forms. From the actors who donated their time, sitting on the stage throughout the 100 minute show for a few minutes of dialogue, to the people who ponied up big money for sponsorship and tickets, to those who were so kind to this outsider, to the reluctant celebrities who were made so by the trial, I was pleasantly stunned. Nobody outside the trial had to do any of this, but it was a fantastic thing to see. I loved my conversations with the actors, but my abiding memories will be of meeting and talking with those directly involved in the trial.
The question asked by nearly everyone who spoke to me was, “How are you connected to this?” My answer to them: “I can’t turn my back on my family, friends, colleagues and students.” The deeper truth: Inequality is deeply painful, especially when forced with prejudice upon those we love.
8, as play, experience and event, spoke to that. I just hope that more people out there are listening.