‘8’ addresses current issue

Dramashop’s production of “8” by Dustin Lance Black left audience members with more questions than answers.

The show chronicles the recent court case regarding Proposition 8, an approved California state constitutional amendment that states that only marriage between a man and a woman will be recognized.

It clearly has a political agenda, and yet Dramashop’s portrayal of the characters and the dilemma highlighted the group’s philosophy of “Theatre in Process.”

The show was held in the Performing Arts Collective Alliance building, or PACA, located at 1505 State St. in downtown Erie.

The official title of the series, “The Erie Reader Staged Reading Series,” demonstrates the local publication’s attention and desire to be part of the local art scene, and showcases Dramashop’s ability to foster coalitions.

A striking, albeit jarring, feature of the production was its lack of staging, minimal costumes and scripts in the hand of every actor. This  was intended to encourage detailed attention to the script instead of production value.

The true impact from the performance came from the diverse background of actors involved. Gannon students, alumni, local business leaders and other members of the community came together for Dramashop’s  cast of 19 actors, its largest yet.

But ultimately, the text stands for itself.

Most notably the character of Charles Cooper, portrayed by Jerry Brace –  the  defense attorney in favor of Proposition 8 – demonstrated a captivating ability to argue against what seemed to feel like the popular opinion in the room while remaining approachable and enjoyable to watch.  Brace had several long monologues, and the audience hung onto every word as if he were speaking for the first time.

Cristen Manion, a junior theatre & communications arts major from Gannon, also maintained an impressive stage presence. As the broadcast journalist, she tethered the staged reading to real-world events and brought the audience up to speed with the details of the case.

Contrary to most professional news anchors, it felt like she was talking to the audience — rather than at the audience. This impressive trait held the show together during its longer moments, and developed the central theme of the show without becoming intrusive.

Finally, the character of David Blankenhorn –  portrayed by Steve Sullivan –  was subtly captivating and complex. His juxtaposition of equivocation and heartfelt confusion made the audience consider the multifaceted situation that was, and continues to be, a contentious court battle.

If nothing else, this show embodies the great potential of the Erie theater community. If other organizations similar to Dramashop continue to encourage a “Theatre in Process” mentality, more and more actors will come forward ready to participate.

As Dramashop continues to say, “The text stands for itself.”



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