8 and the Marriage Debate

We all love courtroom drama, right?  It’s so American.  It’s the place where the goodies and the baddies get to have their say, or, literally “their day in court.”  It’s the place where justice gets to prove itself impartial, or maybe deaf, dumb, and blind.  It’s the place where, we hope, wrongs are righted and rights are upheld.  Watching that happen thrills us with the virtues of the American way. 8, a play by Dustin Lance Black (Academy Award-winner for his screenplay for Milk), condenses the transcript of the Federal District Court trial, Perry vs. Schwarzenegger, from August 2010—twelve days of procedure—into 90 minutes of courtroom drama.  That was the trial that resulted in the decision that overturned the effects of Proposition 8.  Proposition 8 was a ballot proposal in California that added, by public vote, a state constitutional amendment that insisted that only male-female marriage would be legally recognized, thus invalidating a CA Supreme Court decision from May 2008 that permitted same-sex marriage.  The trial in 2010, since upheld as Perry vs. Brown in February 2012, declared the amendment unconstitutional.

That’s simply looking at the back and forth of law in terms of its effects and outcomes.  The trial proceedings give us a chance to look at the back and forth of law as the story of people with different views and different goals pitted against one another in a civic arena.  And that’s where theater comes in.

8 is being produced by the Yale School of Drama, with licensing from the American Foundation for Equal Rights and Broadway Impact, which have been involved in previous stagings of the trial—including an all-star version in L.A. in 2012 (Brad Pitt as a District Court judge?).  With a similar injunction against same-sex marriage in New York recently over-ruled, the politics of the case are still very much with us, particularly as the CA case may go to the U.S. Supreme Court.  All the more reason to get a sense of how the deal went down in CA.

The production at Yale—one night only, Monday, October 22—will be a staged reading, directed by Sonja Berggren of the theater group Panndora Productions, in Santa Ana, CA, who is at Yale as a Special Research Fellow this semester.  Berggren is ideal for the task because she was actually a lawyer in CA for years and so has a feel for the realities of courtroom procedure.  YSD students Lico Whitfield, Jabari Brisport, and Chris Bannow were instrumental in getting the licensing to stage the piece and in helping to put together the team that's putting on the show—via an e-blast for volunteers.  The team includes administration, faculty, students, and staff of YSD—playing all the principals involved in the proceedings, including, as Berggren points out, two attorneys, Ted Olson and David Boies, famous as opposing counsel in Bush v. Gore, who joined forces for the plaintiffs against Proposition 8.

The trial was supposed to be broadcast but at the last minute there was a ruling that prohibited it.  That outraged a lot of people and, while it’s not as exciting following a trial with an outcome already decided, it does justify the interest in seeing the trial acted out.  For YSD fans, the interest will also be provided by Berggren’s creation of a trial-like atmosphere—complete with milling witnesses—and by the familiar YSD figures who will be participating, such as Director of Theater Safety Bill Reynolds, by benefit of his judicious mein, playing presiding judge Vaughn Walker, and Victoria Nolan, Deputy Dean of YSD and Managing Director of Yale Rep, as well as many students, including Ethan Heard, Artistic Director of the Yale Cabaret, and Managing Director Jonathan Wemette.

Following the play there will be a talk-back discussion, moderated by Joan Channick, Associate Dean of YSD, with participants from Yale Law School, Yale Divinity School, and the School of Drama.  The event is free and open to the public and invites public discussion of this important social issue, so far being decided state by state.

What: A staged reading of “8,” the courtroom play based on the landmark marriage equality decision in CA

Who: Yale School of Drama Students, Faculty, and Staff

When: Monday October 22, 2012 @ 7PM

Where: University Theatre, 222 York Street, New Haven, CT 06511

How Much: Free