A new theater entity opens Friday in Long Beach and rarely has a producing organization exploded from the box with a more emotionally charged subject or with such a familiar cast. The entity is the Public Theatre of Long Beach. The play is 8, which dramatizes the courtroom battle that resulted in the overturning of Proposition 8 (the ballot proposition passed by California voters in November, 2008 that banned same-sex couples the right to marriage) On Aug., 4, 2010, a U.S. District Court overturned Prop 8 on the grounds that it was unconstitutional. That 12-day trial is the basis of 8.
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Though a victory for proponents of same-sex unions, the fat lady ain't sung yet. The U.S. Supreme Court will review Prop 8, this fall.
"This is the Public Theatre's coming-out party," Denis McCourt, the founder of the Public Theatre in Long Beach, said. "Our structure is to give a voice to a very broad and diverse population, which is what is here in Long Beach. We will develop community groups based on ethnicity and sexual orientation and allow them to tell their stories through staged readings, and hopefully serve as an incubator to bring those people together and possibly start their own theater companies."
Dustin Lance Black's play (it's actually a staged reading, not a full production) has been barnstorming the country since its debut in New York in 2011. In March, it was performed at Los Angeles' Wilshire Ebell Theatre and starred a kind-of-something cast, including Brad Pit as U.S. District justice Vaughn Walker and George Clooney and Martin Sheen as the plaintiff's lead co-counsels. (The video of that production can be viewed here. It also received a high school production in Woodland Hills last week. An interesting aspect of the play is that, in real life, the testimony in Perry v. Schwarzenegger couldn't be heard live. The plaintiff's attorneys, Ted Olson and David Boies (who represented the opposing sides in the Bush v. Gore clusterfuck of 2000) wanted the trial broadcast, which the judge agreed to. But opponents filed an emergency appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which blocked any broadcasting. Outraged by this, Black, who wrote Milk and J.Edgar, pored over the 12 days of testimony to come up with his play.
This production, while not exactly filled with current Hollywood A-listers, does feature an impressive cast, including Birney, Vereen, Joan Van Ark, and one of America's finest stage actors, Alan Mandell. It also includes some prominent Long Beach folk, like Vice Mayor Robert Garcia. All have volunteered their time for the play. After the performance, the cast as well as Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo, two plaintiffs in the case, will speak and conduct a Q&A. "
This play has had hundreds and hundreds of readings across the country, so it's a political movement as well," McCourt said. "It is the civil rights issue of our time."
See 8 at Ernest Borgnine Theater , 855 Elm St., Long Beach,www.publictheatre.org/tickets/. Fri., 8 p.m. $20.