Husband and wife actors/activists Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen wrote a stirring, revealing, award-winning play about six falsely convicted death-row prisoners that is getting its first Rhode Island production at the Bristol Courthouse.
“The Exonerated” tells the tales of five men and one woman who have spent an average of 13 years in prison for crimes they did not commit.
Artistic Director Ed Shea of Warren’s 2nd Story and Artistic Director Ricardo Pitts-Wiley of Pawtucket’s Mixed Magic have collaborated on this 80-minute production, set in an actual courthouse, with the actors moving freely around the room.
Pitts-Wiley, with his deep, somber voice filling the chambers, opens and closes moving testimonies of the exonerated, with four additional actors filling in the voices of spouses, prosecutors, defense attorneys, witnesses and others involved in the cases. Their stories are all heart-wrenching, especially that of Sunny, played with so much emotion by Joanne Fayan, who with her husband was falsely accused of murder.
Thanks to DNA, witnesses coming forward and the work of organizations dedicated to freeing people wrongfully accused, the stories of the six people have bittersweet endings.
We first learn how they were captured, giving inadequate defense and sent to Death Row. We get to feel how they felt, knowing they would probably be executed for a crime they didn’t commit.
The final 20 minutes were the most emotional as we got inside their heads and hearts and felt how they did when they were finally released.
Tom Chace plays Gary, a man coerced into making a confession. Amos Hammick Jr. plays Robert, who has one of the saddest tales. Joe Henderson is Kerry, Edward V. Crews is David, both with stories of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
While “The Exonerated” is a difficult look at the injustice of our justice system, it also leaves us with some hope for the future, as DNA becomes a bigger factor, along with dedicated people, like the writers, who work day and night to right the wrongs of an imperfect system. The actors intertwine their stories and we make connections along the way…a much better approach than just presenting six soliloquies.
“The Exonerated” shows that a difficult subject can be handled dramatically in a collaboration of writers and directors to present an interesting, educational and, yes, entertaining evening of theatre.
In the Courtroom of the Bristol Statehouse through June 30, tickets are $30. Call 247-4200 or go to boxoffice@2nd storytheatre.com.