The Exonerated

Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen

45 Bleecker Theater, New York

(2002)

Review by Philip Fisher

This play should be compulsory viewing for anybody that believes in the Death Penalty. Two young actors, Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, have put together the stories of six people who spent a combined century on Death Row before being exonerated (cleared).

This is one of an increasing number of theatrical productions - it would be wrong to call it a play - with rotating casts. It has already starred the likes of Mia Farrow, Richard Dreyfuss, Jill Clayburgh and Jeff Goldblum and, on the night of the review, Lynn Redgrave was the show-stealer as Sunny Jacobs.

Sunny was a hippy-type who was put onto Death Row with her husband for the murder of a policeman. Sixteen years before her release, the true murderer signed a full confession. In the interim, she remained in jail and her husband was horribly executed. The electric chair malfunctioned and it took three goes and thirteen horrendous minutes before this innocent man was finally put out of his misery.

The ten actors, three of whom change, sit facing the audience and slowly the six character' inter-connecting tales are related. For the most part, these are Blacks or White Trash who have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. There seems to be a lot of pressure on police and prosecutors in the USA and as a result, these six people - and who knows how many more - spent years of their lives condemned to die in the cruellest way possible.

This is compelling viewing of the most prurient kind and will continue to sell-out Off Broadway for some time to come. The mix of powerful story-telling in the words of the prisoners with big names is potent. It is also greatly assisted by the fact that one of innocent is Delbert Tibbs, played by Charles Brown, an excellent performer with wry wit. Tibbs is a folk poet and his understanding and verbal dexterity in conveying his dilemma are extremely telling.

This is a chilling 90 minutes and police, politicians, lawyers and jurors would do well to see it. It could change their lives as well as those of their clients, customers and victims.