Tuesday, July 17, 2012

'8' puts a face on the marriage equality issue

By Cheryl Thornburg
Shoestring productions has a history of producing thought-provoking theater and took that to a new level Friday with its staged reading of Academy Award-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black’s new play, “8,” that recounts the trial challenging the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 that stripped gays and lesbians of the right to marry.  Using the actual transcripts and interviews with those involved, Black has done what I have sought to do in my journalism career, put a face on the issue.  In the actual words of those who were there, he brings it all down to the personal level and we get to know the couples who challenged the law.
The cast was large and talented and delivered some amazing performances in the limited setting of a staged reading.  Many of them were memorable, especially that of Susan Sneeringer who portrayed Maggie Gallagher, the chief opponent of marriage equality.  Her performance was riveting as she delivered line after line of vitriolic speeches in the courtroom that I’m sure are diametrically opposed to her own beliefs. That’s the sign of great acting.
The plaintiffs, a gay couple and a lesbian couple, are played by Michael Steven Contreras and Dallas Mugno, and Maria Damore and Kathy Newville, whose portrayals bring out the everyday lives and frustrations for the couples. Damore and Newville play women who had been married and have children, but fell in love later in life and are raising their sons together. Those interactions range from normal family stuff (not missing soccer practice) to more poignant scenes. The boys are played by Brandon Reimer and Daniel Graf.  
The attorneys from both sides get to do a lot of the talking and the actors seem quite comfortable in those roles.  John Gancar and Fred Opalinski, play the attorneys for the Plaintiffs and Daniel Smith plays the Proponents’ attorney.
Keeping them in line is Chuck Gallagher as Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker, who has a wry sense of humor that Gallagher seems to relish.   He’s fun to watch as he puts people in their place.  
The witnesses also have some memorable things to say, and Richard Bradbury, as David Blankenhorn, the proponents’ star witness, gives some of the most shocking testimony of all as he admits that  “we would be more American on the day we permitted same-sex marriage than we were on the day before.”
Another moving performance came from Corey Buller as Ryan Kendall who talks about what it was like when he went to sessions to be reprogrammed to become straight.
The remaining cast includes Jamie Howard, Kathy Hoffman, Michael Harbach, Fr. Dwayne Messenger, Dr. John Manubay, Herbert Karasin, and Corey Donchez.
Kirk Lawrence plays a journalist covering the trial, but most importantly, directed the show, which seemed to have a major impact on the cast as well as the audience. He chose a cast that put heart and soul into the performance.  It’s too bad it only had a one-night showing.  It deserves to be seen by many more people.
Black, a founding board member of AFER, had this to say about the play: “People need to witness what happened in the Proposition 8 trial, if for no other reason than to see inequality and discrimination unequivocally rejected in a court of law where truth and facts matter. The goal of ‘8’ is to show the world that marriage equality is a basic constitutional right.  The facts are on our side and truth always finds the light.  AFER and Broadway Impact are doing all we can to help speed that process along.”
“8” was presented by Shoestring Productions in association with the Miller Center at Reading Area Community College, with license from the American Foundation for Equal Rights and Broadway Impact. Proceeds from the production will be donated to AFER to aid in the ongoing legal battle. 


Throughout 2012, AFER and Broadway Impact are licensing “8” for free to colleges and community theatres nationwide in order to spur action, dialogue and understanding.  Most productions will be followed by a talkback where cast and audience members can discuss the issues presented in the trial.
The story for “8” is framed by the trial’s historic closing arguments in June 2010, and features the best arguments and testimony from both sides.


On February 7, 2012, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a landmark decision upholding the historic August 2010 ruling of the Federal District Court that found Proposition 8 unconstitutional.  The Ninth Circuit concluded:
“Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples.  The Constitution simply does not allow for laws of this sort.”
For information on how your local theater can produce “8, visit: www.8theplay.com

The American Foundation for Equal Rights is the sole sponsor of Perry v. Brown, the federal constitutional challenge to California’s Proposition 8. After bringing together Theodore B. Olson and David Boies to lead its legal team, AFER successfully advanced the Perry case through Federal District Court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Foundation is committed to achieving full federal marriage equality for all Americans.

Broadway Impact is a grassroots organization of the theatre community and its fans mobilized in support of marriage equality. In direct response to the passage of California’s Proposition 8 in November 2008, Tony Award-nominees Rory O'Malley (The Book of Mormon) and Gavin Creel (HAIR) and Production Coordinator Jenny Kanelos founded Broadway Impact to engage the theatre community in the fight for marriage equality. Recent initiatives include: contributing to phone bank efforts to win marriage equality in New York State; creating an awareness program that led to a 3,000 piece letter writing campaign; facilitating the attendance of 1,400 supporters to the National Equality March in Washington, D.C.; and producing a rally for over 5,000 attendees in Midtown Manhattan. Broadway Impact is now committed to bringing “8,” a play about Proposition 8 written by Academy Award-winner Dustin Lance Black, to university and community theatres across the country in order to inspire dialogue, understanding and action concerning marriage equality. Broadway Impact was the recipient of the 2009 Human Rights Campaign Community Award and proudly operates under the entity of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.


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