The Exonerated

  • Our critic's rating:
    September 1, 2012
    Review by:
    Tulis McCall

    (Review by Tulis McCall)

    Here’s a little challenge. Think back to 1976. Perhaps some of you were embryos – but give it a shot anyway. Place yourself in that year. Okay. NOW scroll through your life and touch on a few events as you move forward to 1992 - pretty good memories in there no doubt.

    Now erase those years. Just take them away. What is left and who are you now?

    That is what happened to Sunny Jacobs. And it happened in spite of someone else confessing to the murder of which she was accused. That confession was received in 1979, when Jacobs had been in prison for three years. The next 13 years were stolen.

    See. This is the deal. It is not safe out there. It just isn’t. And the people in this readers’ theatre want you to know that.

    Gary Gauger discovered the body of his father, and the police found his mother. He was arrested for their murders and kept awake and caffeinated so long that he began to hallucinate. When he did it was suggested that he sort of guess how he might have done the murders, with the assurance that this would not be held against him, except it was - it was used has his confession.

    Robert Earl Hayes was arrested for the murder of a white girl at the track where he worked – because he was black, pretty much. And when he was finally released – after the record of the long red hair clutched in the girl’s hand was discovered and the real killer found - he was not allowed to work at a track again with the animals he loved.

    Kerry Max Cook had a one nighter that never became much of anything and was arrested for the woman’s murder three months later. He was sent to jail for over 20 years. DNA set him free.

    And what they want you to know, what it is important that you get, is that they are not unusual cases. There are people, just like you and me, who are in jail for crimes they did not commit.

    The authors Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen traveled all over the country in 2000 and collected stories of the exonerated, from which they constructed this play. At the time there were 89 people who had been exonerated. Today the number is 297.

    Bob Balaban has directed these fine actors – four of the parts are rotating and our “guest cast” included Stockard Channing, Brian Dennehy, Delroy Lindo and Chris Sarandon – to let the text and the tale guide them. They defer to the stories and let the truth come at you in all its incarnations.

    This is disturbing and haunting material. Most of these stories take place in Mississippi, Florida, Texas and the Midwest. Makes me wonder when someone is going to look up the Exonerated a little closer to home. They are here, in our fair city, you can be certain.

    "Ten years after its New York premiere it still has the power to unsettle."
    Ken Jaworowski for New York Times

    "Its minimalist approach makes the piece speak even more powerfully to both mind and heart.”
    Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

    "The work is extremely moving, and regardless of your political leanings, these stories will touch your heart."
    Suzy Evans for Back Stage

    "Retains its power to outrage."
    Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey

    External links to full reviews from popular press...

    New York Times - New York Post - Back Stage - Newsroom Jersey