Delaware Theater Spotlight

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Exonerated at Delaware Theatre Company

As citizens of the United States of America, we trust that our justice system will work to protect the innocent in our country and deter future crime, but that is not always the case. There are times when the justice system fails. In the summer of 2000, authors Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen traveled across the country and spoke with former death row prisoners who were found innocent. The Exonerated is the story of six of the 40 prisoners they interviewed. Bud Martin, the Executive Director of the Delaware Theatre Company, says that DTC is "not taking a stance on the death penalty, only on justice."

Anthony Lawton, Akeem David, William Zielinski, David Alan Anderson. Photo courtesy of the Delaware Theatre Company

Delaware Theatre Company's production of The Exonerated is a simple one. A bare, raked stage with a single chair greets you as you enter the theatre. In fact, chairs are the only set piece that we ever see, and the actors are constantly taking them on and bringing them off stage. Having such a simple set design brings so much focus to the words. There are light moments, as is important in any serious play. The Exonerated deals with a very hot button issue, and the nature of this play forces you to face it head on. Each of the wrongly-convicted characters speaks directly to the audience, so that you, as an audience member, feel very much a part of the show. Director David Bradley said, "In this play, what a Supreme Court Justice once called ‘the unreal dream of the innocent man convicted' becomes bracingly real. And all of us, those onstage and those of us in the audience, share in it together." As an audience member, you begin to have a vested interest in what happens to these characters. And because they were all real people, you know eventually things are going to start to get better, but the injustices that they each face along the way are unbelievable and heartbreaking.

Sunny Jacobs, played by Megan Bellwoar, being interrogated by Dan Hodge (l) and Tom Bryn (r). Photo courtesy of the Delaware Theatre Company

For the most part, each of the actors who plays one of the exonerated plays only that character, while the rest of the actors play various lawyers, police officers, wives, judges, prison guards, etc. My hat goes off to the four actors who play multiple roles, Susan Riley Stevens, Tom Byrn, Dan Hodge, and Aimé Donna Kelly. Playing multiple roles in quick succession is not easy, even for the most veteran actors, and yet each character is very distinct. And for the six actors who play the exonerated prisoners, their performances are inspiring and very real. On opening night, we were lucky enough to see the real David Keaton, played by Frank X at DTC, speak after the show, joined by Seth Penalver, the most recent exonerated prisoner from the state of Florida. Both men knew some of the characters personally, and both men said that Akeem David as Robert Hayes and David Alan Anderson as Delbert Tibbs captured the true spirit of these men.

David Alan Anderson as Delbert Tibbs. Photo courtesy of the Delaware Theatre Company

Regardless of your political views when it comes to capital punishment, The Exonerated at Delaware Theatre Company is an extremely powerful production that should not be missed. There will be a panel discussion after the March 1 matinee featuring Senator Karen Peterson, who sponsored Senate Bill 19 to repeal the death penalty in the state of Delaware, along with four other panelists. The panel is called "Justice for All: Access to and Navigation of the American Judicial System." Also on Thursday, February 27 after the 7pm performance, Kerry Max Cook whose story is featured in The Exonerated will share the story of this 22-year stay on death row for a crime he did not commit.

The Exonerated runs until March 9 at the Delaware Theatre Company. Tickets range from $35 to $50. Call 302-594-1100 or visit

Posted at 3:46pm on February 24, 2014 by

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