This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001



Powerful, intense, and crucially important, THE EXONERATED is back at the Culture Project for a special tenth-anniversary engagement (photo by Carol Rosegg)

Culture Project
45 Bleecker St. between Lafayette & Bowery
Tuesday - Sunday through November 4, $30-$99

Ten years ago, married couple Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen’s groundbreaking The Exonerated debuted at the Culture Project. The riveting, multiple-award-winning play, which follows the true, harrowing stories of five men and one woman who found themselves on death row for crimes they did not commit, is now back at 45 Bleecker St. for a special return engagement, and it’s as powerful as ever, as innocent people continue to be incarcerated and executed in this country. On a dark stage, ten people sit in front of black music stands, relating their stories as overhead lights single them out, with occasional interstitial music by David Robbins. The production, again directed by Bob Balaban, features a regular cast of six actors, along with a rotating selection of four guest stars taking on some of the major roles. The central figures are Gary Gauger (Brian Dennehy), Kerry Max Cook (Chris Sarandon), Robert Earl Hayes (JD Williams), David Keaton (Curtis McClarin), Delbert Tibbs (Delroy Lindo), and Sonia “Sunny” Jacobs (Stockard Channing), each of whom was wrongly arrested, convicted, and sentenced to death. They are joined by Jim Bracchitta and Bruce Kronenberg as various cops, prosecutors, and other public officials, April Yvette Thompson as Hayes’s wife, and Amelia Campbell as Cook’s and Gauger’s wives; Campbell, McClarin, and Kronenberg reprise their roles from the original stage production, while Dennehy and Lindo previously played their parts in the 2005 Court TV movie. Every single word of The Exonerated is taken from interviews, court transcripts, letters, and other primary sources; nothing is fictionalized, which adds to the play’s intense power. The terrifying personal journeys of the six wrongly convicted people explore such issues as racism, homophobia, and political maneuvering in which the truth seems to always take a backseat. Even though the audience knows that the six people have been freed, the play is beautifully paced, cutting from one character to another as the tension mounts and the details grow more and more amazing and hard to believe. The acting is solid throughout, but Lindo is particularly mesmerizing, speaking Tibbs’s poetic words with a masterful grace. Dennehy, Channing, and Sarandon continue through September 23 and Lindo through September 30; upcoming celebrity guests include Steve Earle, K’naan, Lyle Lovett, Brooke Shields, and the real Sunny Jacobs. Numerous shows will also be followed by panel discussions featuring such groups as the Innocence Project, Amnesty International, the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Reinvestigation Project. The Exonerated not only makes for terrific theater, but its importance cannot be overstated. Don’t miss it — especially if you’re in favor of the death penalty.

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