Editor’s Note: The Selective Echo welcomes Mark Alvarez, a familiar correspondent, who is the guest reviewer for Plan-B Theatre’s Script-in-Hand reading of Dustin Lance Black’s ’8′ which was presented yesterday (August 4) and will be presented once again today at 2 p.m.
‘8,’ written by Dustin Lance Black and performed by an array of Utah acting and community talent, takes the audience where cameras and recording equipment could not go: inside the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to hear the arguments in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the case over Proposition 8.
Plan-B Theatre Company staged ‘8’ as part of its Script-In-Hand Series in partnership with Broadway Impact and the American Foundation for Equal Rights. A well-executed distillation of one of today’s most important trials, ‘8’ drew a full crowd to the Rose Wagner.
On August 4, 2010, in a ruling on California’s Proposition 8, Judge Vaughn R. Walker concluded:
‘Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.’
Black’s sensitivity for accurate context is duly noted. Much analysis of the case has focused on the substantial work of attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies, litigators on opposite sides in Bush v. Gore who work here as a team against Prop 8. Playing Olson and Boies, Tobin Atkinson and Mark Fossen, respectively, acquit themselves well.
Also important for context, the California Attorney General conceded unconstitutionality and government defendants declined to defend Prop 8. The Ninth Circuit Court noted, “Proponents and ProtectMarriage.com controlled the defense of Proposition 8 in its entirety.”
Attorney Charles Cooper managed that defense of Prop 8. As ‘8’ makes clear, Cooper defended Prop 8 so poorly that Olson and Boies must have been tempted to cede him more time. High praise to Kirt Bateman for playing Cooper stammeringly and haltingly well. (Photo by Rick Pollock: from left, Logan Tarantino, Topher Rasmussen, Teresa Sanderson, April Fossen)
‘8’ begins on a big screen with a commercial supporting Prop 8. Recurrent themes to support Prop 8 include the threats same-sex marriage poses to children, schools and religious liberties. Four short years since Prop 8 passed, these threats have turned to humor if audience chuckles serve as evidence.
Ted Olson soon has the stage for closing argument. He emphasizes the special meaning and meaningfulness of “marriage.” He elaborates about its fundamental importance to life in America. ‘8’ employs difficult legal language at times, but what comes through from Olson is the value of marriage to all those who might and should be able to enjoy it and to society in general.
‘8’ flashes back from Olson’s closing argument to testimony from two couples who served as plaintiffs. Kris Perry and Sandy Stier are women committed to each other and raising two teenage sons. They long to be able to express their love more freely. While heterosexuals may speak openly about relationships, the same words from LGBT couples are labeled ‘coming out’ and ‘the decision to come out every day is exhausting.’
‘Coming out’ can have consequences. Ryan Kendall testifies that when his mother found out about his sexual orientation as a teenager: ‘Mother told me I would burn in hell.’ He further relates that he was sent to conversion therapy through NARTH (National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality.
Attorney Cooper suggests that Wilson has resisted conversion therapy, but he lays no real foundation and is effectively rebutted by attorney Boies who turns ‘conversion therapy’ into ‘reversal therapy.’
Olson notes in his argument that only two witnesses agreed to testify after depositions largely handled by Boies, who says it is ‘easy to make statements in campaigns when they can’t be cross examined.’ (Photo by Rick Pollock: Jason Tatom (top), Jay Perry)
David Blankenhorn is called by Cooper as an expert on the harmful effect same-sex marriage would have on society. Woe to attorneys who call on the unprepared.
Under cross-examination from Boies, Blankenhorn acknowledges that he is ‘a transmitter of eminent scholars’ and further admits that ‘equal human dignity should apply to gay and lesbian people’ and that adopting same-sex marriage would improve the well being of gay couples and their children.
Effectively disqualified as an expert, Blankenhorn proves Boies correct: ‘opinions melt away under cross examination.’
The character most humiliated, almost to the point of sympathy, is Charles Cooper, who argues that the state interest in marriage concerns procreation. Judge Walker asks how same-sex marriage might undermine that interest. Cooper hesitates; then responds, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know.’
After other flaws in the argument develop, Judge Walker suggests, ‘the state must have some interest apart from procreation.” He essentially gives Cooper another opportunity to argue. Cooper stumbles from ‘responsible procreation’ to ‘irresponsible procreation.’ He has no plan B and finally settles for: ‘you don’t have to have evidence of this point.’ Judges everywhere rock in their seats.
Though some may be ‘uncomfortable with the idea that gay people are just like us,’ Boies conveys an essential purpose for ‘8’: ‘we put fear and prejudice on trial.’ Fear and prejudice lost.
‘8’ dedicates some time to the National Organization for Marriage. Though oddly entertaining, the shrillness of this voice was inversely proportional to its substantive content. Whatever importance this group has should melt away under rigorous advocacy.
Dr. Cott testifies as an expert in ‘8’: ‘The marriage covenant was the foundation of all our rights.’
Undoubtedly the immediate value of ‘8’ underscores Plan-B Theatre Company’s commitment to unique and socially conscious theater and helps significantly to advance the movement toward equal access.
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