OREM — In November of 2008, a majority of California voters said yes to Proposition 8, a legal redefinition of the state’s constitutional amendment declaring that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized.” This decision was met with uproar, same-sex couples and LGBT supporters statewide protesting the validity of such a proposal. The movement quickly spread across the country, proponents of same-sex marriage raising their voices in opposition to Proposition 8. Various court cases both sustained and overturned the resultant amendment of Prop 8, perhaps bringing to the forefront of media the social concerns raised in the movement to redefine marriage. Even today, in 2013, the Supreme Court stands to hear multiple cases regarding the precedent established by Proposition 8. News media has been flooded with a veritable cornucopia of information, be it in respect to or in opposition of these momentous changes. In the wake of this on-going debate comes the play 8.
Focusing on the events surrounding the court case Perry vs. Schwarzenegger, 8 dramatizes the courtroom experience for primarily the plaintiffs Kris Perry and Sandy Stier with a secondary emphasis on plaintiffs Jeff Zarillo and Paul Katami. Research suggests this play was written in reaction to the court’s refusal to air the closing arguments in court of Perry vs Schwarzenegger , and so in lieu of video comes the text of the play. While the primary action draws from the courtroom transcript itself, there are few brief interspersions of familial interaction.
The moments within the court itself were certainly captivating. Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of courtroom dramas can understand the copious amounts of technical jargon used in this play, though at the crux of the emotion certainly stems from a more personal undercurrent within this production—people seeking to be treated as equals in a society that proclaims “liberty and justice for all.” Playwright Dustin Lance Black calls upon the personal stories of Perry and Stier to color the story with that more sentimental hook that theatergoers seem to prefer. Though the evening was presented as a “staged reading” there were technical elements and blocking that certainly uplifted the overall narrative to delineate the events.
Truly, the actors are to be given laud for their tackling of the difficult subject matter. A real undercurrent of empathy and heart gave this staged reading the emotional pull it needed. Yes, the situation within a courtroom might leave little room for such emotions, but the core of the script comes from an underlying personal struggle to be accepted. I was particularly impressed by the performances of Shannon Black (playing Sandy Stier), Emma Christopherson (as Kris Perry), Tom Hawkins (Jeff Zarrillo) and Michael Timmothy (Paul Katami). Each conveyed a real yearning, the implications of their involvement within the court case made more personal. Black’s script does a good job of helping the audience see the faces and lives behind what could easily be a cut-and-dry transcript. Thanks to Black and these actors, here is heart in 8.
However, the director David Beach’s interpretation of the voice of the playwright meeting that of the director (David Beach) also created an unsubtle political message that was shared with (pushed upon?) the audience. I would have enjoyed a more objective approach to the script, rather than seeing certain pro-Proposition 8 characters portrayed with such a starkly negative light. The only actor who managed to overcome this general preachy tone of the reading was Jordan Tewari, who played the role of defense attorney Charles Cooper with a real sense of empathy and understanding for the emotional source of his character.
Barring personal opinions, I found the production to be informative. LGBT theater within Utah County is a rare happenstance, though awareness seems to have grown over these last few years. The number of seats filled within the auditorium certainly served as a testament to this—people are interested in the debate to be had regarding the changing definitions of marriage. Perhaps more important than the presentation of 8 itself was the conversation that followed post-performance. Prominent faces of the Utah LGBT rights movement sat on panel and answered questions regarding the modern movement to achieve marriage equality rights across the nation. It was moving to see quite so many people interested in the conversation, and indeed, compelling to know just how many supporters of this are present in Utah County. A movement that really began to pick up speed some 5 years ago has finally reached the forefront of political prominence; changes are being made. These changes may indeed create fear, as pointed out in discussion, though plays like 8 seek to breed understanding. Regardless of political views or agenda, this is a script I would recommend perusing, if only to enhance awareness of just exactly what the political biosphere currently holds. I appreciate the UVU Spectrum student club for producing this work and fostering a more aware community. Though this production ran only 3 performances, I still highly encourage readers to find ways to get ahold of the script, or see if they can watch the Youtube broadcast of this piece a different production of the play.