‘It has taken too long for this majestic piece to play here’ The Times
‘Impressive cast’ The Times
‘It is an intense hundred minutes, cleverly interposing colloquial anger and argument with the measured legalities of the attorneys.’ The Times
‘Mann’s verbatim play harnesses the power of real testimony’ The Guardian
★★★★ ‘With work like this, the trains should be re-routed and the theatre stay on.’Reviewsgate
November 27th 1978: Dan White shoots and kills Harvey Milk, the first openly gay American to hold elected office and George Moscone, mayor of San Francisco.
May 21st 1979: Dan White is found not guilty of murder.
Execution of Justice is the story of how and why it happened.
A cast of 20 perform Emily Mann’s award-winning 1982 verbatim play – a panoramic view of a time of upheaval and change, told in words taken from trial transcripts, interviews, reportage and the street.
Moving in and out of the courtroom and backwards and forwards in time, Execution of Justicecaptures a divided city in crisis and the impact of loss.
“More than any other American writer of our time, the body of her work has demonstrated the importance of theatre to the psychic well-being and sanity of a society” Athol Fugard
“One of our most urgently engaging, provocative and significant American Playwrights whose work bears witness to some of the most pressing moral issues of our time.” Joyce Carol Oates
Execution Of Justice is supported by Stonewall and The Harvey Milk Foundation
I will be going to see this after work on Thursday 2nd February 2012.
See the following So So Gay review:
Featured image: Harvey Milk at the desk of George Moscone.
In 1978, the assassination of Harvey Milk – the first openly gay elected official on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors – and Mayor George Moscone, shocked the region. But it was the trial of their killer, Dan White, which was considered a gross injustice and sparked riots across the city. American playwright Emily Mann gives us a factual insight into the trial itself, using court transcripts peppered with personal accounts from outside the Halls of Justice. This creates a ‘theatre of testimony’, as Mann describes it, that not only documents, but breathes fresh insight into a trial which left a sour taste.
The strength of the play is that it gives a sober and measured account of White’s trail. Whilst Milk was an excellent and remarkable film, it ultimately is a very impassioned and emotional account, painting a very particular character of his killer. Here, Mann’s approach gives the audience a chance to scrutinise the evidence and arguments presented before the court, enabling them to construct a more matter of fact portrait of White. This can leave the viewer’s perceptions of White as a villain and justice as a failure somewhat challenged, as they are put through the stoic process of the law. While it may not cause revelations, it’s an incredibly interesting exercise to be put through, prompting a surprisingly intellectual response.
The additional testimonies which break up court proceedings add much needed depth and breadth, letting loose the voices of a community grieving and in shock; galvanising the raised eyebrows to idiosyncrasies which led to a people robbed of closure and equality.
But it’s the attention to detail and staunchly verbatim approach that leaves the play feeling too dry. Each statement, judgement, and exchange is acted out in full as if the case were happening before your eyes. The problem with real life courtrooms is that they ironically lack the drama of courtroom dramas. Mann’s attempts to break up the script do work, and flourishes of drama are incredibly effective. Under the esteemed direction of Joss Bennathan, the recollection of the iconic candlelit march, and the climax to the court’s bitter judgment, are moments that really stick to your countenance. However, there are just too few of these to stop the 100 minutes from dragging. In short, it lacks the grand and compelling elements of recent successes such as Paradeand Cause Célèbre.
Propping up the production are some excellent performance, especially those of the sparring lawyers – Christopher Lane and Ben Mars. Lane is superb as smug and sly defence lawyer Douglas Schmidt, screwing up his face when his rival has the upper hand, and grinning maniacally when he knows he’s trumped his opponent. Mars, is also tremendous as tenacious and determined prosecution lawyer, Thomas Norman, desperately fighting the odds stacked against him. It is these little nuances of character that are incredibly engaging amongst a format that lacks excitement.
While this isn’t the most powerful piece of political theatre, it’s certainly an important one and is very worthy of anyone’s time. Despite its faults, it’s a well executed meditation on justice in a society striding social chasms.
James is in his mid-twenties currently living in Southeast London. Originally from Southwest Wales he's moved to London, via Manchester, and has a strong passion for the arts. He likes a good gin, and his ice cubes are London Underground roundel shaped.
I am a London born, English lesbian biological mother of a male child named James. I am also in a long term committed relationship with a woman. I am in full time paid employment and am the published author of the book 'Altered Perceptions'. I have a Schizoaffective disorder mental distress diagnosis and I was diagnosed with Erotomania, which is treated with a small amount of regular oral anti-psychotic medication, whilst I was a prisoner in HMP Holloway in 2009. I am responsible and active with the well being of my only biological child James who was in long term foster care with a heterosexual married couple. This was due to consequences of my mental distress experiences, and my prior single parent status.