Dan White rode an anticrime campaign into San Francisco City Hall, resigned from the city council in 1978, immediately begged for his job back, was rebuffed, executed Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, and so became one of the most notorious criminals in city history.
How White went from anticrime advocate to killer is a compelling story (his attorney said it was too many Twinkies that put him over the edge; the jury bought it), but Emily Mann's Execution of Justice loses that story in an attempt to answer other questions–why the politically progressive San Francisco DA's office botched the prosecution, how the city's minority and gay communities responded to the verdict. The result is a thematic pig's breakfast, a hapless re-creation of the days and weeks following the killings, mostly through a tedious murder-trial format that turns into a platform for self-righteous speechifying of the worst sort.
Drama is supposed to dramatize. Instead, we're treated to long, abstract and often arcane testimony–true to life, no doubt–concerning backroom 1970s San Francisco politics, as well as various legal instructions to jurors. It's old news to anyone who's seen at least one episode of Law N Order.
In a bizarre twist, White–the most important character by far and ably played by Mark Craig–ends up with few lines. In fact, beyond looking sullen at the defense table during the trial, White has just one scene: tearfully confessing to the cops after the shooting. The meatiest roles go to White's attorney (Vince Campbell) and the prosecuting DA (Paul A. Castellano). They do a fine job, but the play isn't about them. Substantial time is given to the testimony of various psychiatrists and city bureaucrats; the program says one witness was “Fire Chief Sherrat,” but I don't remember him. Moscone and Milk don't appear at all, beyond actual footage of them aired for the audience during the trial.
There are great stories surrounding the life and crimes of Dan White–the reactionary who promised to fight crime and then committed murder. Someday, someone will show them to us.
Execution Of Justice at the Rude Guerrilla Theater Company, 200 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 547-4688. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m. Thru July 20. $12-$15.