The Exonerated: a powerful, moving drama now at the Ridgefield Theater Barn

“Powerful”, “Raw” and “Intense”.  These are just a few adjectives that went through my mind as I watched The Exonerated, now on stage at the Ridgefield Theater Barn in Ridgefield Ct.   The play is about 6 inmates on death row and how they were wrongfully accused, and after decades they were exonerated.

The Exonerated is a 2000 play by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen that debuted Off-Broadway in 2000 at 45 Bleecker Theater and ran for over 600 performances. It won numerous awards including the Lucille Lortel Award for Unique Theatrical Experience, the Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience, and the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway Play.   It is indeed a unique theater experience.

The stage design for this production is stark and bleak.  The walls are dark prison gray, there is a bench in the front of the stage and 10 wooden chairs line the three walls where the actors all sit silently until they stand up to tell their story to the audience.  On the back wall is a single window with prison bars.  The front of the stage is lit with a spot light but the rest of the stage where the actors sit is cast in shadows as if they are forgotten.

During the performance we meet each of the prisoners, 5 men and 1 woman.  One of the men is Delbert who is a self described poet and he tells not only his own story, but serves as the narrator.  He focuses the audience on the injustice of each of the prisoner’s arrests and convictions.   Each of the prisoners rise from their chair to tell the audience a brief part of their story before returning in silence to their chair.  We learn about their arrest, the pressure to make a confession, false testimony and other tactics which cast a poor light on the justice system.  Several of the prisoners are African American and all have low incomes which results in shoddy legal representation.  All are convicted and sent to death row.  Also are on the stage are two women who portray the wives of the convicted.  Two other male actors play multiple roles of police officers, prosecutors, and defense attorneys.

There is no music, and only one actor speaks at a time.  The theater is silent and you can hear the audience members reaction as they gasp in disbelief and anger at the mistreatment of these people at the hands of the justice system.

The stories are real and based on true events.  The actors are all first rate and as each tells their story the audience has their eyes riveted to the stage as they hang on every word.  The performances are compelling and heart wrenching.  But all is not darkness in this story as the convicted are finally exonerated though they are scarred and have lost decades of their lives.   There is an uplifting feeling of hope as the play concludes.   The full house at the Theater Barn gave the cast a well deserved standing ovation.

This is certainly a play you should see, and we were very impressed by the direction and brilliant performances.   Due to mature subject matter, the play is not recommended for audience members under 18.  The play runs just over 90 minutes with no intermission.

The wonderful cast includes Kevin Knight as Delbert, Priscilla Squiers as Sunny, George Croom as Robert, Kendall Driffin as Georgia / Female Ensemble #1, David Fritsch as Gary, Chris Cooney as Kerry, David Tate as David, Paulette Layton as Sue/Sandra/Female Ensemble #2,Timothy Huber as Male Ensemble #1,Matt Pagliaro as Male Ensemble #2.   Directed by Elizabeth Young who has crafted a powerful moving play.

The play runs through September 25th 2022 and is  presented without intermission Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8pm; Sundays at 5pm.

Doors open one hour prior to curtain; Cabaret Seating; Bring Food & Drink; Snacks are available in the lobby.  The Ridgefield Theater Barn is a unique venue and a local treasure.

Ridgefield Theater Barn

for tickets and information http://www.ridgefieldtheaterbarn.org

photo credits: Pippa Walton

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