|Photos provided by Terry M. Fischer Theatre Staff|
By Sarah Hayes of the Forum
The Historic Court Battle Comes To Life On Stage
The year 2008 was historic for Americans. It was the year the United States elected its first black president and the year Californians voted to amend the state constitution in order to ban same-sex marriage. Immediately, two same-sex couples sued the state, challenging Proposition 8 as unconstitutional and a violation of human rights. Much of the proceedings of Perry v. Schwarzenegger were blocked from public access, including testimony from the two couples that filed suit, until recently.
In Dustin Lance Black’s stage play “8”, the story opens with the closing arguments of Perry v. Schwarzenegger, which originally occurred on June 16, 2010. Originally a staged reading, the full stage production of “8” has been brought to life at the Terry M. Fischer Theatre through the efforts of director Daniel J. Betzler and a cast of characters, many of them played by Florissant Valley Community College students, past and present. This college production ran through the weekend of October 5 - 7, which included the stage play as well as an additional 15-minute “Talk Back” question and answer session featuring different guest speakers every night.
For the play “8”, the stage in the Fischer Theatre is appropriately transformed into a courtroom, complete with California state flag and official state seal. On both sides of the judge’s bench sat two rows of chairs, seating the cast portraying the lawyers, witnesses, and defendants who made up both sides of the case against Proposition 8. The stars of the play are the two couples who brought their argument to court, Sandy Stier (Janice Bruns-Mantovani) and Kristin Perry (Taleesha Stewart), Jeff Zarrillo (Robert M. Hanson) and Paul Katami (A.J. Pupillo), as well as their defending prosecuting attorneys, Ted Olson (Brad Kinzel) and David Boies (Thom Crain). Standing against them and representing the state of California was defense attorney Charles Cooper (Sherard E. Curry) as well as his team of “experts.”
The historic content and scope of “8” is immense, but the feel of it is a uniquely personal one. Characters’ monologues are given with an intimate lighting, the entire area around them dimming so as to draw the eye onto their brightly lit figure. Testimony is given not from a high-up post but from a chair in the middle of the stage, bringing the audience on a closer level with the speaker as their words and experiences create the bigger human story of the Perry v. Schwarzenegger proceedings.
There is no denying that “8” carries with it an agenda, which is to propel the dialogue on marriage equality. It does this through presenting transcripts of the historic California case as well as collaborating observations and interviews through theater, a medium that has often been used in the name of social change. Even if it does not come off as neutral in nature, “8” creates a conversation within its audience. Since that kind of reaction was Dustin Lance Black’s original intention, it can be argued that Black’s “8” succeeded in Saint Louis.