With a title like The Exonerated, you know this story is ultimately one of hope, working with a series of true stories of those who where wrongly convicted, then finally set free in the United States. It is dedicated to David McCallum, who was exonerated for a crime, after 29 years.
Having license to borrow from and ability to shed light on such stories, would be an interesting yet somewhat challenging dichotomy for any creative team to work through. In The Exonerated it provides stimulus for a rich, detailed exploration into the human condition, justice and the sense there of.
The Exonerated works with an impressive cast, whom work together, fully relating and retelling these detailed stories. The most touching story is that of Sonia “Sunny” Jacobs, the only female character which is perhaps what makes her story stand out, she was the partner of Jesse Tafero, together in 1970 they where wrongly convicted of shooting two police officers in the state of Florida.
Tafero’s execution is still spoken of today for the fact that it took 13 minutes for him to die due to a fault with the electric chair. This character’s closing monologue details the death of her partner and also parents; and that her children grew into adults while she was on death row. Following her charges being over turned in 1981, it wasn’t until 1992 that she was finally released.
Direction by Andrei Schiller-Chan has helped give this performance a sense of refinement to all it’s complexities, into one that’s easy to follow, the separate narratives and explorations into character here in The Exonerated work together in unison as each move slowly toward resolution.
The lighting design by Travis Macfarlane is magical stuff. In this performance, light is used to create inner spaces on stage, providing shifts between each of these complex stories. The production values here are high; use of a scrim and the way in which items that litter the stage are not just there for decoration, but worked with by performers – being just two examples. Perhaps though, The Exonerated would feel a little less cramped in a larger space, just walking into The Studio at Chapel Off Chapel felt claustrophobic.
At times, this performance was riveting, though as it approached the climax, it lost cantor, with the repetitious structure and scene changes adopted here ultimately wearing thin. Though perhaps also attributed to the overly long run time; this show clocks in at around 90 minutes, shaving 15 minutes would of provided for a much tighter show and one which is far more cutting.
There is no denying that The Exonerated is a story, which holds significance, but how well this story resonates with an Australian audience is perhaps a question that needs to be asked. Does this performance go deep enough and move past the subject to really connect with what makes us human? In extension, is this resonance less related to the subject and more related to our own selves?
Leaving a performance with such deep questions and thoughts post show is a wondrous place to find yourself. Though the overly long journey it takes to reach this point is perhaps questionable. For all its shortcomings, The Exonerated is still a burning piece of theatre that communicates, moves and connects with audience, in the mannerisms only great theatre can afford.
Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel Street, Prahran
Season continues to 7 June 2015
Bookings: (03) 8290 7000 or online at: www.chapeloffchapel.com.au
For more information, visit: www.sol3company.com.au for details.
Image: The Exonerated (supplied)
Review: Jessi Lewis