Hours after a federal judge ruled that video recordings of the Prop 8 trial should be made public, a play based on last year’s landmark federal court case over California’s gay marriage ban made its Broadway debut Monday with an all-star cast.
“It was extraordinary,” Joe Mantello who directed the reading, said afterward. “The actors really threw themselves in it. It was mind blowing.”
The play is called “8”. It was written by Academy award winning Dustin Lace Black who used the trial transcript, firsthand observations of courtroom drama and interviews with the plaintiffs and their families to pen the production.
Black, a member of the American Foundation for Equal Rights said the play was born, in part by frustration that the Proposition 8 backers had succeeded in getting the U.S. Supreme Court to bar broadcast of the landmark case.
The January 2010 trail eventually lead to U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker's ruling declaring California's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.
The play was performed as a one-night-only reading at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre starring Morgan Freeman, Ellen Barkin, Anthony Edwards, Bradley Whitford, John Lithgow, Cheyenne Jackson, Campbell Brown, Christine Lahti, Rob Reiner and Larry Kramer, among others.
The 21 members of the celebrity cast read from binders that contained the script and sat in director’s chairs on stage. A video monitor that played anti-gay marriage ads and flags of the U.S. and California served as props.
The text itself was sometimes technical and dense. However, audience attendees note Showtime star John Lithgow’s passionate portrayal of United States Solicitor General Ted Olson as an evening highlight. According to the Huffington Post, his closing arguments cut through much of the legalese and the audience cheered and clapped.
Many celebrities were spotted in the audience including Brian Williams, Barbara Walters and actress Fran Drescher.
David Boies who was an attorney in the Prop 8 trial where he gave an argument in favor of gay marriage said the judge's decision to release the video of the trial wouldn't harm the play's prospects according to the Huffington Post.
Gay marriage advocates had wanted the actual trial to be telecast citing a 2009 rule, issued by U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, allowing some television coverage of civil trials.
Defenders of Proposition 8 opposed broadcast of the trial, for fear that their witnesses would be subject to harassment and intimidation for supporting the ballot measure approved by California voters in 2008.
U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, who presided over the highly publicized Proposition 8 case, was inclined to agree with the gay marriage advocates.
In fact, he not only planned to allow real-time streaming of the trial to several courthouses in other cities, but also to permit YouTube to post video after each day’s proceedings.
However, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked his plan, just before the trial got underway in January 2010, when the justices ruled that the proceedings could not be broadcast.
A federal district court judge in San Francisco ruled Monday that video recordings of the trial concerning the state’s ban on same-sex marriage should be made public.
“Having all of these ways of expressing this issue is important. Theater has a way of reaching people and I think the people who did this did a terrific job of boiling down a three-and-a-half week trial down to 70 or 80 minutes,” said Boies.
While the audience at the reading was overwhelmingly pro-gay marriage, Black said he tried to tease out both sides’ best argument from the trial.
Opponents of same-sex marriage have not said much about "8”. Walker's decision is on appeal, perhaps headed to the Supreme Court, and marriage bans are on the North Carolina and Minnesota ballots next year.
Black along with gay-rights group American Foundation for Equal Rights hopes to license "8" to schools and community organizations nationwide in order to spur action, dialogue and understanding.