“The Exonerated” is a dramatic play that sets itself apart from most plays out there that attempt to entertain the audience. While it manages to entertain, it also invokes great thought in the audience about the faults in the American justice system, all the while managing to induce laughter.
ASU West’s campus put on “The Exonerated” beginning Oct. 24 in the quaint Second Stage West, which seats a fairly small audience. In this intimate performance there are ten actors who bring to life the stories of six people who were put on death row for crimes that they did not commit.
The six main actors told the stories of the real people who were exonerated through the screenplay written by Jessica Blank and Eric Jensen, who together created this magnificent piece through interviews with the wrongfully accused, records and court documents of the actual trials that put these six innocent people on death row. All of the actor’s lines are pulled from documentation and interviews, making the play all the more powerful and thought provoking.
Charles St. Clair, director of “The Exonerated” and ASU West faculty member in the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, truly put a masterpiece together with this play, although he humbly stated that, “It’s all about the actors.”
Each actor gave a phenomenal performance, truly taking on the role of the wrongfully accused in each of his or her respective roles. Rod Ambrose portrayed Delbert Tibbs, a black man who was incarcerated for 2.9 years on death row for the rape of a woman and the murder of her companion. Tibbs’ case is famous and caught the attention of civil rights activists through his poignant poetry. Ambrose’s narration of Tibbs’ poetry seamlessly integrated the stories of these people who were effectively robbed of their lives, linking them all together.
T.A. Burrows brought to life the story of Robert Earl Hayes, who was incarcerated for 7.4 years. He was on death row for the death of a fellow groomsman at the Pompano Harness Track. There were many errors in his case, including the DNA evidence.
Ron Foltz embodied Kerry Max Cook who was incarcerated for 21.6 years for the murder of a woman who he had once been involved with. The court finally ruled that there had been rampant prosecutorial and police misconduct in his initial trial.
Terri Scullin gave an emotional performance as Sonia (Sunny) Jacobs Linder, who was held in prison for 16.7 years while her husband (who was also wrongfully serving time on death row) was brutally killed in the electric chair, leaving her children to grow up without their parents. Scullin later stated that Sunny Jacobs, “had no human contact and lived for the letters that her husband sent to her.”
Robert Peters played Gary Gauger who was incarcerated for 3.4 years for the murder of his parents.
Mike Traylor played David Keaton who was incarcerated for 2.5 years, whose case was infested with misconduct and police brutality.
The performances of all of the actors vividly brought to life the stories of these innocent people who were immensely failed by the justice system in this country and brought to life all of the misconduct, insubstantial evidence and issues of discrimination that pull at the heartstrings of the audience.
This play was so thought provoking that the audience, cast members and the director are invited to stay after for a discussion of the play where people can voice their thoughts and opinions about the play as a whole, including the acting and the way the justice system works.
People of all ages would benefit from viewing this piece of true art that not only entertains but also inspires the audience to make a change in the world and be the difference that St. Clair is hoping for — to change society in a way that will one day prevent the past from repeating itself.
“The Exonerated” has its last showing at ASU West this afternoon at 3p.m. You can purchase your tickets here.
Reach the reporter at Alexa.Dangelo@asu.edu or follow her on Twitter @alexa_dangelo