The Exonerated

Presented by the Actors’ Gang and directed by Tim
Robbins. At UCSB’s Campbell Hall, Thursday, April 20.

Reviewed by Carlos Morton

One of the standard rules of playwriting is to avoid the use of
a narrator, as the play will fall into the realm of the short
story. Of course there are exceptions, like Thornton Wilder’s
Our Town, and recently performance artists such as Anna
Deavere Smith and Cultural Clash have taken this hybrid form to a
new level. So it is with the Actors’ Gang and their current
production, The Exonerated. The Exonerated is a
series of stories told in the first person about individuals’
experiences with the judicial system. They were all charged with
crimes they did not commit, and some were jailed for as many as 20
years. Many are black, and were framed by racist police or made
scapegoats by politically motivated prosecutors. Years later, the
truth was revealed through DNA or other evidence, and they were
“exonerated” — or at least set free. Yet often they feel they are
never totally “free” with the albatross of a prior felony
conviction hanging around their neck.

The performance at UCSB’s Campbell Hall featured a stark set
(chairs and two tables) and very strong acting by the Actors’ Gang
Ensemble, especially Harold Surrat, Yolanda Snowball, Adele
Robbins, Lorenzo Gonzalez, and Ken Elliott, who were aided by the
fabulous lighting design of Ellen Monocroussos. There were moments
when you could hear a pin drop, and other times when the audience
gasped in unison at an atrocity committed by the judicial system.
The only time credibility was strained was with the portrayal of
some Southern cops who came across as caricatures, with cracker
drawls signifying “NASCAR.”

A few people walked out in the middle, perhaps tiring as the
stories became repetitious — not because of the theme, but because
of the form. There were a few too many “private” scenes with one or
two people talking directly to the audience and not enough “public”
scenes where we became part of the community, as in Our
or The Laramie Project. Still, the cast received
a standing ovation at the end, and a lively discussion ensued


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