Last Thursday saw the first and only reading of “8” at Bellevue College, a drama documenting the legal battle over the constitutionality of California’s anti-gay legislation proposition. It was my original intention to try to write the review of this reading as impersonally as possible, but given the inherently political and emotional nature of Dustin Lance Black’s script, and its subsequent rendition by our own students, alumni and faculty, that goal ultimately proved to be too much of a challenge to maintain.
The production was unusual for a number of reasons. It was composed – compiled, really – almost exclusively from verbatim court transcripts of the Perry v. Schwarzenegger closing statements. While it was a performance in every sense of the word, it differed from normal plays or musicals in that it was a reading. The actors and actresses were literally carrying around their scripts on stage and reading them to the audience. As for the setting, the costumes and props were minimalist. A few chairs and a raised platform for the judge constituted the entire set, and the most intricate costumes were customary business suits (not that a court-room environment would have demanded something more elaborate).
This wasn’t for lack of budget or planning however. The “official” rendition of the play, which starred Brad Pitt, Kevin Bacon, and George Clooney to name only a few of its impressive cast, was similarly austere. The whole undertaking had a unique quality in that the content of the dialogue and the emotions of the characters stood alone in delivering the punch, and the actors truly brought the court scene to life without any need of help from extra visuals.
Simple clarity is beauty in the arts. In his TED talk, acclaimed Pixar director Andrew Stanton described “WALL-E” as one of his greatest films for its purity of content. “Storytelling without dialogue [is] purest form of cinematic storytelling,” he said, and it would seem Black achieved something similar on the stage by narrowing the focus away from the normal visual trappings of the theater performance.
While I would say that some of the production crew looked as though they were merely reading their lines (I hope I don’t need to explain that joke), a few actors truly carried the audience into the court with them. Alumni Danny Osborne gave Kevin Bacon a run for his money in his portrayal of lead defense attorney Charles Cooper, and Theatre Arts Faculty-member Karen Jo Fairbrook brought the ostentatious and strident Maggie Gallagher to life in all of her distasteful glory.