Death Row is not a nice place, seriously…

“If government can’t do it right, it shouldn’t do it at all,” says actor Brian Dennahy regarding capital punishment. Dennahy (Cocoon, Gorky Park) is just one of the many big league entertainers taking a volunteer part in the D.C. production of “The Exonerated.” This theatrical experience brings the horror stories of our capital punishment system into full view.

Also playing major roles in this performance are legendary film actress Mia Farrow (Alice, Rosemary’s Baby) and TV actor Chad Lowe (ER, Law and Order). Under the direction of actor/producer Bob Balaban (Waiting for Guffman, Deconstructing Harry) these actors present the terrifying realities of an imperfect justice system. Together, with the aid of six other actors, they present the true stories of those that have been wrongfully convicted under the justice system and placed on death row.

The play is a series of six monologues, told in fragments by each actor. The stage is left bare as all six inmates tell their stories under the sharp cellblock rays of a spotlight. The stories told are 100 percent real, taken from the recordings of the actual inmates themselves. They present a window into the honest wrongs of a system wrought with present day controversy.

“The question of capital punishment is in the air, so it’s definitely the time for this to be seen,” Farrow said after Tuesday’s opening night performance at the Warner Theater. “It’s an amazingly woven piece of work, all of it in the words of the people who went through it.”

Heartbreaking and often shocking, the stories are at times hard to believe, but nevertheless, absolutely true. From racial profiling to homophobia to out-right lying about evidence, the piece displays the different types of corruption inherent to the still active death penalty, making clear that paradoxical mob mentality of wanting justice, even if it’s an illusion and lie of that justice.

“If we’re a society of law and justice, then we ought to provide these things to all citizens, not just the ones with money,” Dennahy said.

What is presented here is the conflict of the rich and guilty versus the poor and innocent. Though critical of the capital punishment system, director Bob Balaban said he believes the show does not preach, but rather shows one side of a system that is not well publicized.

“We very much avoided any proselytizing about the death penalty, because in all honesty I can see the issue from both sides,” Balaban said. “However, what is being seen here is that this is a system that allows for the guilty and rich to cheat the system while at the same time wrongfully convicting an innocent person because he was unable to buy a lawyer, DNA test, et cetera. In the end, you walk away knowing, if nothing else, that this is a complicated issue.”

“The Exonerated” will run at the Warner Theater for a very limited engagement from Jan. 14 to 19, presented as a volunteer commitment by the actors in order to help raise money for wrongfully convicted inmates.

Touching, shocking and revealing, this expose on the American justice system is definitely worth attending.

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