The Actor’s Gang Present The Exonerated

by Patrick Brogan

The 2005 edition of the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology
included a study of 340 prisoners who were wrongfully convicted of
various crimes between the years 1989-2003 and subsequently
exonerated. More than half of the prisoners served prison terms of
10 years or more and 80 percent had been in prison for at least
five years. Imagine the years of torment in the mind of an innocent

Now, the general public will be able to hear such stories
through a series of monologues in a performance called The
Exonerated at UCSB’s Campbell Hall on Thursday, April 20. The
performance is being produced under the artistic direction of
Academy Award-winning actor Tim Robbins by The Actor’s Gang, a
veteran theatre group from Los Angeles. The Actor’s Gang was
founded in 1981 and since then has produced 68 plays and won more
than 100 awards. They mix old with new, performing interpretations
of such playwrights as Shakespeare and Molière while staying
current with performances about popular culture.

Performing more than three plays a year is no easy task,
according to their managing director, Greg Reiner. “The amount of
time spent on each play varies anywhere from a full year of
development to a more traditional four-week rehearsal process,”
Reiner said, who added that despite the serious nature of the
subject matter, there “are many moments of humor and lightness in
the play.”

Hard work is not the only thing for which The Actor’s Gang
should be noted. According to cast member Adele Robbins — who is,
incidentally, Tim Robbins’s sister — the play’s writers worked hard
to ensure that the script would stay true to the prisoners that the
actors were portraying. “The writers asked the actors not to do any
research,” Robbins said. “About 99 percent of the play came from
prisoner interviews.”

Although each of the prisoners channeled in The Exonerated were
convicted of murder, their prison times varied from five to 20
years. Robbins, for instance, portrays Sunny Jacobs, who was
convicted of murdering two police officers, spent 17 years in a
Florida prison, and was later cleared of the crime. After
portraying a prisoner, Robbins has become more aware of the prison
system and its inherent problems. “There has been a large increase
in the prison industry,” said Robbins, who has worked over the
years to abolish the death penalty. “There needs to be a reform for
prison systems with the exception of ones that have

Politics aside, The Actor’s Gang serves as a magnet for
performers of eclectic backgrounds. Robbins, who has officially
been with the gang since 1994, fits that bill well: The daughter of
musicians, she began her career as a singer, then went into dance
before finding herself acting in off-Broadway plays and training at
Chicago’s Piven Theatre. Others in The Actor’s Gang have similar
backgrounds, and that variety tends to better prepare the
individuals to collaborate on the gang’s overall goal.

“The mission of The Actor’s Gang from the beginning has been
dual — both to reinterpret the classics and to develop new plays
that address the world today through a prism of satire, popular
culture, and raucous stagecraft,” Reiner explained.

4•1•1 The Actor’s Gang presents The Exonerated
at UCSB’s Campbell Hall on Thursday, April 20, at 8 p.m. Call


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