I’ve sat on this review for over a week now. For whatever reason, I couldn’t get my head around this production. I just haven’t been able to put my finger on why. When I walked out I knew it was the best production I’ve ever seen at City Lights Theatre Company. Granted, it’s only my third, but it stood out – leaps and bounds – ahead of the other productions. Somehow, it didn’t have the impact and punch that I thought the material deserved but the direction by Amanda Folena was precise and impressive.
Dead Man Walking is presented courtesy of the Dead Man Walking School Theatre Project. It’s also being co-produced by Notre Dame High School. Originally a book by Sister Helen Prejean, it was first adapted for a screenplay by Tim Robbins and then later into a play, also adapted by Tim Robbins. The play itself is an incredible learning tool for schools across the country and it requires an education component when producing Dead Man Walking. It has been performed by over 170 universities nationwide and countless public and private high schools.
This play (just as the book and movie does) questions your beliefs on capital punishment. As an audience member, you go through the emotional heartache of the victims and their family members, as well as the emotional roller coaster that death row inmate, Matthew Poncelet (Thomas Gorrebeeck), goes through as Sister Helen Prejean (Lisa Mallette) strives to help him.
Regardless of your belief, the raw emotions of the characters makes you empathetic to their situation (regardless of what it is).
The scene design and technical direction by Ron Gasparinetti was unique and kept the piece moving, though at times the set was a little too squeaky. I loved how the stage pictures utilized the same areas on stage but continually became a different place and time. There were also two multi-media screens on either side of the stage and while interesting, the images that were displayed felt emotionally manipulative. I almost wish they had decided to not use any multi-media.
Lisa Mallette and Thomas Gorrebeeck, both had incredible roles to tackle and did a great job. The formidable ensemble was also well directed into an organized, choreographed machine by Folena.
Overall, the cast should be congratulated for a job well-done. City Lights and Notre Dame High School should also be congratulated for presenting a piece of work that has such significance to our community and nation. Dead Man Walking gives capital punishment the face-time it deserves, while being emotionally connected and disconnected on both sides.
Dead Man Walking let’s you decide how you feel about capital punishment. It never forces or pushes; the story enfolds in front of you, almost without bias. You will feel something, though it might just take a week to understand and describe it.